First published in the Jan. 1 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
It was late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve as parishioners of Burbank’s Westminster Presbyterian gathered at the Buena Vista Street church known for its longstanding tradition of posting wit-laden aphorisms and adages on its outside marquee sign.
With only hours to go until Christmas, and the sands rapidly disappearing from the top bulb of the 2021 hourglass, the church’s associate pastor, the Rev. Adam Noel Jones, offered up a prayer of entreaty that served as a prelude for the sermon from the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Paul Clairville.
“The phrase ‘fear not’ drives at the heart of Christmas more than any other,” Rev. Jones told his congregants. “Hope, peace, love and joy — the tenants of advent — aren’t just little presents we get under a tree once a year, but rather [things] that embody the words ‘fear not,’ even during a time of fear.”
Following a musical interlude performed by flutist Laurie Lyman, guitarist Jeff Robertson and vocalist Beka Maynes, Rev. Clairville said that within hours the world would be experiencing a seminal moment of Christianity — the celebration of the birth of a child who would bring hope, peace, love and joy into a broken world.
“Our problems and pain — the evil and fear of this world — will always be defeated by hope, peace, love and joy,” said Rev. Clairville.
WestPres, as the church is colloquially known, is locally renowned for their annual presentation of “Nativity! The Musical,” a non-traditional Christmas pageant which always includes song parodies from Broadway and films, pop culture characters and references, sight gags and a stocking full of humor.
“We believe that God wants us to laugh, be happy and experience joy,” Rev. Clairville always says as both an explanation and a disclaimer of their unique telling of the Christmas story.
While the pandemic has now resulted in their multi-performance pageant to be put on hold for the second year, it did nothing to dampen the spirits of those who gathered for the church’s Christmas Eve service, which included a clip from the 1965 television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
The chosen clip was of Linus explaining the meaning of Christmas in words from the third Gospel of the New Testament to a despondent Charlie Brown, who is having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season.
“… And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them … and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.’ That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” Linus said.
At the conclusion of the clip, Rev. Clairville asked if the congregation noticed something that Linus does just as he says the words “fear not.”
“If you watch closely, you will notice that just as he says those words he drops his blanket,” Rev. Clairville pointed out.
Describing that action as a metaphor, Rev. Clairvile said the clip shows how once hope, peace, love and joy are made manifest, and the call to fear not is embraced, Linus no longer has any need for his security blanket.
Following the sermon, church members participated in an offering that was collected to benefit the Burbank Temporary Aid Center and Family Promise of the Verdugos.
“This is our Christmas gift to the organizations that serve those in our community who are broken, needy and lonely,” said Rev. Clairville.
At the conclusion of the service, the congregation was invited to gather outside, in front of the church, for a candlelight benediction.
Huddled around the cross in the church’s forecourt, Colton Goss as Joseph and Mattie Motz as Mary were joined by the entire assemblage to hold their candles. As the flames gently flickered in the early evening breeze, Rev. Clairville sent up a final prayer, that his parishioners would go on to their family celebrations and into the New Year with a renewed sense of hope, peace, love and joy.
It is a prayer that hopefully, peacefully, lovingly and joyfully will reach far beyond the members of WestPres and in 2022 help ward off the fears that exist in every corner of our world.
DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 563-1007.