I confess that sometimes I get wistful thinking about spending a quiet Christmas Eve at home around a fire - of course, this year with its 75 degree weather, I suppose a Christmas Eve fire would have been a bonfire outside instead of a fire in a fireplace with "the stockings all hung by the chimney with care."
Anyway, with parents who were professional church musicians, we have always, always, always been in church on Christmas Eve...usually several times. We would start at the Moravian Church for an early service and a love feast. Every year, the Moravian choir would sing:
"Morning Star, o cheering sight, Ere thou cam’st, how dark earth’s night!
Jesus mine, in me shine;
In me shine, Jesus mine;
fill my heart with light divine.
Then, they would serve us sweet rolls and sweet coffee.
Afterwards, we would head to our church - a Baptist church - for communion.
Then, it was off to join the Episcopalians for the 9:00 PM service and the 11:00 PM service because my sister was their guest musician.
Once we moved to Statesville, the church service for our home church was much bigger. Musicians and a full choir singing "Still, Still, Still." I sang in that choir with years beside my good friend, Robin. We were inseparable in our high school youth group, and we made quite a formidable alto section. We were loud and proud altos! And, we stayed that way - even after we were both grown up and living in other places, we came home to sing in the choir.
So, this year, it was particularly meaningful to me to have Robin and her mother and sister join us for our Christmas Eve Service. During "Angels We Have Heard on High," I caught her eye and I knew we were both nailing the alto line of "Gloria in excelsis Deo!"
As I reflect back on all the Christmas Eves I have spent in church, I realize how important faith has been to my personal celebration of Christmas from childhood all the way to my, uh, mid-forties! I realize that the rituals - the candles, the readings, the carols - shape the way I understand God - I DO believe in the God who came in our flesh! What a wonderful, beautiful thing! I realize the power of singing the story of faith with others - family, old friends, and new friends.
Have you ever really paid attention to the words of the carols? Sing them, and you come face to face with the power of "Mild he lay his glory by, born that we no more may die" and "Word of the Father now in flesh appearing." We come face to face with the promise "when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and all the world give back the song which now the angels sing." That's good stuff!
I may never know how the other half lives on Christmas Eve. But, as I look out across the congregation holding up their candles, I glimpse the "radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth." I feel a glimmer of hope for 2016. Maybe the power of Christmas Eve extends far beyond that one night. Maybe there's more to this birth than we ever imagined.