Saturday, December 25, 2010

A meaningful Christmas morning

Sunrise on the Mtkvari River, Tbilisi
After waking up on a cold Christmas morning in the hostel in Tbilisi, I went out for a run as the sun was rising. That makes it sound like I was up early -- it was almost 9! The morning dawned bright and clear, with a pink tinge to all the stone buildings. I ran along the river (one of my favorite locations to run anywhere I am), and watched the city wake up. The sun rose behind some of the churches whose spires rose into the dusky light, pointing toward heaven. The morning was very cold - cold enough to have put frost on the ground. I took my camera with me and snapped a few pictures when I was so arrested by the beauty of what I was looking at that I had to stop.
Back at the hostel, I got ready for the day and had breakfast. During breakfast, I started reading the Christmas stories written in Matthew and Luke -- then I heard the bells. One of the nearby churches rang the bells to call the worshippers for a service. "I heard the bells on Christmas Day...." played in my mind, and I decided to answer their call. I put my New Testament and phone in the pocket of my coat, pulled on my gloves and a hat, and walked to Sioni Church. I stepped inside to find a service in progress. The congregation, many of whom were holding candles stood gathered around three or four ministers. I stepped up to the edge of the group and found myself beside the women singing in response to the minister. The service was conducted in Georgian, I think, or maybe Latin - the tone of the minister's voice was very low, and I couldn't understand his words. People in the congregation wrote things on slips of paper and passed them up to the secondary ministers who opened them and read them, and I think, prayed for each one. The minister went into a long lecture, so I took out my New Testament and opened to Luke 2 to finish reading the Christmas story. I had just read the words, "The angel said, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people...'," when the ladies broke into song again. The tempo of the song exactly reflected the mood of the words I had just read. I stopped reading and listened to their song.  When they stopped, I resumed reading, and got to the "heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, on Earth, peace and goodwill to men!'" The song started again - it was as if I had my own personal service happening in the middle of the one I was observing! I was moved by the combination of words and song, and a tear came to my eye. I finished reading the passage, and the minister swung an censer that had bells on it - more Christmas bells! The smoke from the incense rose in wreaths of prayer and worship up into the dome of the church. I stood, looking at the frescoes, the icons, the candles, the sunlight streaming through the high, narrow windows and thanked God for His blessings -- for the greatest Blessing of all -- the reason for worshipping this Christmas morning!

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all!

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