On a frigid December 23rd, so cold my gas cap froze, I drove hours on Maine highways to a denominational meeting. Imagine scheduling a meeting for the 23rd! I was feeling pretty glum about my ministry in my first call; the small church I served had serious budget issues, and I felt like a failure. A much older pastor sat next to me and listened to my story at the lunch break. He offered a kind word; I wasn’t the only person responsible for the situation.
I hesitated to believe him.
I loved church, and I loved the church I served, but I started the drive home wondering whether I had misheard God’s call on my life. Did God really want me to be a pastor? Did I really want to be a pastor? And if that wasn’t who I was supposed to be, who was I?
In this year – this second year – in which loss and frustration and disappointment have swirled together, many pastors have asked some version of these questions, and we are not the only people of faith wondering what God really wants for us and from us. Who are we supposed to be?
A recording by the choir at my home church was in the CD player that afternoon, a program of the music for Christmas Eve when I was still a seminarian and sang with them. As an organ piece ended, I heard the opening bars of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” I had loved processing with that large choir on Christmas Eve, experiencing the joy of being an alto who joined the sopranos for the descant on “Sing, choirs of angels.”
I began to sing with them. I couldn’t help myself.
We reached a verse sung a capella.
Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, loving us so dearly?
In that question, I sang the answer to my questions. It didn’t balance the budget, but it consoled me, reminding who I was and whose I was. I could not trust it in the words of my colleague, but I could not deny it in the verse I had forgotten. Those words re-membered me; they put me back together.
May the coming days offer each of us such a numinous assurance. God who loves us is God-with-us.
(Choral nerds might like to know that it was the Willcocks’ Carols for Choirs arrangement.)