Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright! Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy Infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace. (Joseph Mohr, 1792-1849)
For many Christians gathering with family at a Christmas Eve candlelight service, singing “Silent Night” while holding small candles, is what it means to really celebrate Christmas. I’ve participated in many such services. First as a teenager growing up in a home that did not include a worship service as part of our family’s celebration. I went with my best friend and her family, leaving my family at home listening to Christmas carols and sipping warm drinks.
As a newly married wife I attended the services with my husband’s family that did have this as part of their Christmas tradition. As our girls were growing up this was a tradition we shared with our own daughters.
Eventually I was part of the staff planning and leading the candlelight services. More years than not, there were two services. Then I was a camp director, again free to worship with my family at a Christmas Eve Service. One of my favorite Christmas memories is watching our young grandchildren’s fascination with the process as we worshipped with our growing family.
Now I am retired and have the luxury of deciding where I’ll spend Christmas. I can be at home or away with out-of-town family. I can travel to anywhere my husband and I decide we might want to go.
Church staff’s do not have that flexibility. Unless you’ve been part of a church staff, you may not have any idea how many hours go into putting together the Christmas Eve services. Each service requires hours of planning, practicing, and preparing. All those who will be involved have to be recruited and assigned roles. The musicians and choirs have to gather in advance to rehearse – often many times. The bulletins have to be put together, mass produced, and made ready to hand out. Pastors often feel obliged to preach one of their best ever sermons for the occasion, realizing many may not have heard a sermon since the previous Christmas Eve.
Since many people travel at this time of year, it is often necessary to go through the church directory in search of people who will be in town to help with the various tasks necessary to have a worship service.
It is indeed a most wonderful time of the year when the lights are turned down low. Candles are lit person by person until the whole assembly is awash in the soft glow. It is a moment of peace. A moment of hope. A moment of quiet beauty. Memories of Christmases past rush to the surface, often bringing tears with them. Appreciation flourishes for the family and faith community gathered together.
As you go about your preparations to celebrate this holy night, pause to offer a prayer for all those who make the service possible. This year Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. That means the vast majority of congregations will have one or more services Saturday night and within a few hours offer another one or more services on Christmas Day.
Take time to thank your church staff for the extra effort they will make this season. It’s hard for them to adequately tend to their own Christmas traditions. They can’t travel until after the last service. And if their family comes to them, they will no doubt feel torn between spending time with visiting family or tending to the responsibilities of preparing the way for the arrival of the newborn king.
Many other vocations also require people to work on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. An extra word of thanks and appreciation to them would be greatly appreciated. Consider thanking them one way to spread the light of Christ whose birth we pause to celebrate.
Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from your holy face, With the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at your birth, Jesus, Lord, at your birth. (Joseph Mohr, 1792-1849)