Growing up in Home Moravian Church, as a child I always found Christmas to be a magical time of year. One of my earliest memories is that of worshipping at Home Church on Christmas Eve, a tradition that started when I was three years old and has continued unbroken for the past sixty-two years. Upon entering the sanctuary, the cedar and narcissus decorations delighted my eyes and their heady aroma filled the whole place, wafting all the way up to the balcony where my family traditionally sat.
After what seemed like hours of squirming in the pew, a new smell arose and overtook the fragrance of cedar and narcissus. It was the delicious aroma of lovefeast coffee, its origin unknown. I could hardly wait for the lovefeast to begin! As the buns and coffee were passed down the pews, I waited with growing anticipation for the pastor to initiate the blessing, so I could start drinking my warm cup of sweet creamed lovefeast coffee. The seed of a gift from God, yet to be realized, was firmly rooted in me before I even started elementary school.
My call to be a lovefeast coffee maker was finally realized in 1996 when Tom Spangler, then head lovefeast coffee-maker, called and invited me to assist him in making the lovefeast coffee for the August 13th Renewal Lovefeast Service. One of the many things Tom taught me over the three years I was under his guidance is that the making of lovefeast coffee is truly a gift. Tom faithfully made lovefeast coffee for Home Moravian Church for 50 years. He entrusted that gift to me and I, in turn, have shared that gift with my cousin Wayne, my brother Bill and both of my sons, Hamilton and Harrison.
For the past 22 years, I awaken on Christmas Eve morn at 5:00 a.m. I drive in the quiet and darkness of the pre-dawn hour arriving at Home Church by 5:30 a.m. to warm the 21 and 35-gallon copper urns. Once the urns are full of water and the fire is going, I walk upstairs from the lovefeast kitchen to the sanctuary and sit in the darkness for about 15 minutes, reliving those childhood memories complete with the fragrance of cedar and narcissi and the scent of beeswax.
I imagine the aroma of lovefeast coffee, which will soon intermingle with and then overpower all the other wonderful Christmas smells. I also know in a few short hours, I will hear the clanging of empty coffee mugs and children singing the Morning Star hymn. In the quiet darkness of the empty sanctuary, however, I realize therein lies the key that unlocks the true mystery of the Christmas Eve Lovefeast. It is a celebration of gift and promise!
Wherever we are geographically and whatever our Christmas tradition might be, we all share in one amazing gift: the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth! God’s gift to us remains as powerful today as it was on that very first Christmas Eve! The fullness of grace and truth is God’s promise to us. The Christmas Eve Lovefeast is so meaningful to me because it is a celebration of both the gift and the promise. Not only does God give Himself to us through His son Jesus Christ, but God also promises us a full life, brimming with grace and truth.
The grace of God means that we, as Christians, can speak the truth to one another and trust that we will be heard without fear of retribution. The promise means that when the light of Christ within us begins to burn low, God can be trusted to rekindle Christ’s light within us through the simple warmth of a cup of lovefeast coffee and the soft glow of a hand-made beeswax candle. God became flesh and dwelt among us: what a wondrous gift to contemplate on Christmas Eve!
The day will be a long one for me. A total of 2,800 cups of lovefeast coffee will be brewed for the four Christmas Eve services held at Home Moravian Church. Those four services are Home Church’s gift to the community, but the making of the lovefeast coffee is also a gift. It is my gift to Home Church, to the dieners and worshipers alike, and above all, it is my gift to God.
As I make my way from the lovefeast kitchen to the balcony during the final lovefeast of the day, the realization of God’s greatest gift to us is rekindled in my heart through the lingering warmth of the lovefeast coffee and the glowing of each candle burning brightly before me. As I hold my candle high during the singing of the last hymn, I look out over the congregation and what is reflected back at me causes me to “sing with awe and love’s sensation…Hallelujah, God with us!”
Tony Disher is a member of Home Moravian Church; on Christmas Eve, you’re sure to find him brewing Home Church’s lovefeast coffee. This devotion originally appeared in the Home Moravian’s Home to Home newsletter.