Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker • Pastor

This photo from Christmas Eve 2013 shows last Christmas in the Sanctuary before before it was renovated in 2014.

Last Christmas … it seems longer than a year ago. So much has changed over the course of the past year. It’s felt like a roller coaster of changing situations, emotions, challenges, and blessings. Last Christmas we weren’t able to gather together as we’ve done so many times before. Last Christmas was the first Christmas of its kind for most of us; participating in virtual Christmas Eve services, not traveling to be with family, opening presents on Zoom. This Christmas may be different for you, it may be brand new, or it may be much like last Christmas, but every Christmas IS last Christmas.

“Every Christmas is last Christmas.” I didn’t get it when I first heard it on an episode of Doctor Who several years ago, but I do now. Every Christmas is a last Christmas.

Perhaps looking back you’ve realized that last Christmas was your last Christmas: last Christmas with a loved one, last Christmas in a home, last Christmas when your child made you a present, or your last Christmas together.

This Christmas is going to be last Christmas. We know it will be the last Christmas we are blessed with Pastor Marie as one of our pastors leading us in worship, but we can’t know all the things that may change over the next year to make it last Christmas. The same is true for each of us. We may have an idea of how this may be a last Christmas because you may be aware of transitions in your own life, but we can never know the full extent of change a year can bring. But we do know change is inevitable: it will be last Christmas. Enjoy it, love it, cherish it, and take it all in. Every Christmas is last Christmas.

And yet every Christmas is also first Christmas. Do you remember your first Christmas as a couple, in a new home or city, with a new child, even your first Christmas at Derry? Last Christmas was also first Christmas: the first Christmas pre-recording services and having livestream only, the first Christmas with Pastor Pam and Grant, and for me it was the first Christmas as a family of four. This Christmas will also be first Christmas. This is Derry’s first Christmas with our new organ, it’s the first Christmas for Pastor Pam and Grant as we gather together in the sanctuary and for Eric Riley as our Artist-in-Residence. It’s the first Christmas at Derry for new members, even the first Christmas we’ve decorated with purple poinsettias.

Christmas is a microcosm of the changes in our lives. There will always be lasts and there will always be firsts. We will mourn and miss; we will change and cheer. Things will end and new things will begin as they have at Derry for nearly 300 years. Just imagine all the lasts and all the firsts this place has seen since Scots-Irish pioneers first chose to worship under the oaks in 1724.

The year ahead will be no different. There will be lasts and there will be firsts. Some things will come to an end, but new and exciting things will begin. My favorite Scripture is 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, the old life has passed away and the new life has come.” I experience that every Christmas, every year, every day, and so does Derry. It’s one of the many ways the Gospel fills me with hope. God says to us again and again, “Look, I am doing a new thing (Isa. 43:19).” While I know this Christmas will be last Christmas, I can hold on to the hope of first Christmas. And while this year will be the last year, it will also be a new year and a first year.

So together, let’s make this Christmas and the coming year special. Let’s honor the lasts and celebrate the firsts in faith and thanksgiving. God is doing something new in our lives and at Derry. I can’t wait to discover it with you.