“This will be a sign for you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths
and lying in a manger.”
For a lot of people, Christmas comes down to Christmas Eve, and Christmas Eve comes down to getting it over with, starting with Church. As a result, the vast majority of people try to attend the earliest service time available, which for Catholics is about 4pm. Year after year we tried everything to win people to other times, or make that time more manageable, but nothing ever worked. It was a mess every year, nobody enjoyed it, it certainly wasn’t very prayerful, and it served as confirmation to the people who only go at Christmas why they never go the rest of the year.
One evening, back in the summer of 2005, I was stopped at a light on York Road, in front of the Maryland State Fair (which is here in Timonium, if you are reading this elsewhere). I had never been to the fair, nor set foot on their campus. But the front gate was open for some reason, and totally on impulse, and with nothing else to do, I drove in.
I discovered that one of the larger buildings was also open (the Exhibition Hall) and I went in. In an instant I knew that I wanted to do Christmas there. Why not just get off the treadmill we were on, bring everybody together at a time they want to come, and provide plenty of room for visitors and new comers?
That first Christmas Eve was a little scary as we stared at all those empty seats, waiting for anybody to show up. But they came, and they kept coming. We had a great turn out our first year, and each year since we have grown. However, the last two years, we have grown beyond the capacity of the Exhibition Hall. And then, more recently, when the Fire Marshall actually suggested he might cut back on the existing seating, we knew we had to do something.
The Cow Palace (admittedly an unhelpful name) sits just north of the Exhibition Hall and is the same simple kind of structure (it does have floors and ceilings and heat and restrooms). The experience will be exactly the same as before, only difference is there’ll be more seats: hundreds and hundreds of additional seats. So please bring your friends and family members who don’t have a church to our church. Don’t be hesitant to make new invitations, we can handle everyone.
The first Christmas, Luke tells us, the shepherds where sent by an angel to a manger to worship together with Mary and Joseph. What more appropriate place could we possibly find for our celebration this Christmas?
Let it be a sign for you.