Four Christmas Eve services. Four opportunities to sing “Silent Night” and look into the candle-lit faces of people, most of whom seem caught up in the magic of that experience.
Yes, it’s a lot of work, but in some ways it’s one of the most important things I do all year. Preparing for those services, I think about striking a balance: keeping elements of each service fresh while maintaining beloved traditions. Mostly I think about all of the people who will come, and their different life circumstances: the newly-married, the newly-grieving; some doubting, some longing for a rekindling of faith, some reluctant to be there at all, and those whose spiritual foundation feels rock-solid.
Our Director of Music Ministry, Mary Fancher, found a piece written this year called “The Weary Couple.” Inspired by the refugee crisis, the lyrics re-tell the story of Mary and Joseph. The solo was haunting and beautiful.
I had chosen a video to begin our 7 PM service, but right before that one aired, my colleague Tim Schulz played a video of the Leonard Cohen song, “Hallelujah.” I hadn’t known it was coming; I sat back and relaxed, watched it and appreciated it. It’s hard to worship when you’re the worship leader; music really helps.
At the last service, Anne E. DeChant sang her original song called “Light the Weary World” which also seemed incredibly appropriate for our time and fit perfectly with my sermon.
I always love seeing our young people read scripture; it’s especially fun to see those who are at college and observe how they’re growing and changing. One of our college students launched into the scripture with the introduction, “Hi!” Then halfway through, when he mis-pronounced a word, he said, “My bad.” It was priceless.
At each service I saw faces I knew and faces I didn’t. At each service, I was grateful for the plans which worked well. But there are always details I miss, and they cause me to wince. I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, but I make a mental note of things I want to remember for next year.
Favorite moment of Christmas Eve 2015? This, hands-down. Julie Reimer (our Director of Christian Education) and I were sitting by the pulpit before the service began. We were attending to last-minute arrangements, answering questions, watching people come in. We were smiling at all of the children in their Christmas finery, their whole bodies tingling with excitement. In the front row was the Zakel family. All three children had roles to play in “The Friendly Beasts.” Claire had offered to play “Ode to Joy” on her recorder.
The pre-service music began. The Keegan boys were playing Christmas songs on the piano and Claire began to get nervous. Her big brother Colin put his arm around her. I don’t know what he was saying, but he was obviously trying to reassure her. Julie and I both were captured by this scene. I said to her, “I wish I had a camera”; I wanted to remember the way his face looked, full of kindness as he turned towards his sister. A minute later, Claire was on the chancel, playing her recorder, and Colin was looking at her, nodding his head in encouragement. It was one of the dearest moments of grace, and I will long remember it.
Christmas has come and gone but the wonder of it all lingers…for that and so much more, I am grateful.