Two weeks ago, on the first Sunday of Advent, I had the privilege of co-officiating a wedding ceremony for two young people whose dedication to God and to each other I admire. There were three ministers involved–the bride’s father, the groom’s brother-in-law, and myself–each speaking on a separate theme and presiding over a separate ritual that symbolized their union. Somehow, it all came together in the end: the ceremony worked, the congregation was blessed, and God was honored.
Every wedding holds its own special moment for me, from the vantage point of the one standing with the couple, watching the proceedings from the other side. Images come vividly to mind: the bride weeping with infectious joy as she walks down the aisle; the groom choking with emotion as he reads his vows. I particularly cherish the warm memory of one procession in which bride and bridesmaids alike had all been students in my classroom.
There are also, of course, memories of another kind, funny in retrospect, but not so funny at the time: the late wedding guest who ran through the processional to get to a seat; the maid of honor who walked down the aisle signaling silently to me that they couldn’t find the groom’s ring.
And now, with this most recent wedding, another image, another memory. The long ceremony was nearing its climax. The couple had made their sincere and heartfelt vows, and I began moving toward the sacred moment: “Then inasmuch as you have pledged to one another your lifelong commitment, love, and devotion–in witness of the covenant you have made with each other and the covenant God makes with you…”
They knew what was coming, and they were ready.
Couples react differently at this point: some smile gently; some begin to cry; some try to control their emotions. But these two? As I began to say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” their faces lit up with joy. Their eyes went wide; their mouths gaped open as if to say, “Wow…is this really happening?” They reminded me of two kids who have waited and waited and waited for Christmas, and have suddenly come upon the most unimaginably wonderful presents under the most glorious tree.
They kissed; the congregation erupted with applause, cheering and sharing their joy.
I wonder: how did the shepherds react when they saw the baby Jesus? Once they had recovered from their terror at seeing the heavenly host, once they had run down into Bethlehem to see the “good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10, NRSV) with their own eyes–how did they respond when they saw the child bundled in cloths and lying in a manger? Luke tells us they ran around telling everyone what they had seen and heard, “glorifying and praising God” (2:20, NRSV).
I can just see their faces.
Joy to the world–the Lord is come. In the midst of everything else that Christmas has become in our culture, may you find joy.