This was my midweek message for the church this morning, the fourth in a series about my favorite Advent traditions:
One of my favorite Advent traditions (in addition to lighting the Advent wreath, reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and shopping for gifts), is going to church on Christmas Eve. I don’t think there’s been a Christmas Eve in my life when I wasn’t in a church, holding a candle, and singing Silent Night.
There’s just something about that night: the hush in the air, the darkness that settles around us, the candlelight, the singing, the words of Luke’s gospel: “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…”
Finally, we get to follow Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Finally, we get to watch as Mary lovingly wraps her newborn son in swaddling cloths and lays him in that manger. Finally, the angels sing and the shepherds go to see. It’s the culmination of everything we’ve been waiting for these past four weeks, ever since that Sunday in late November when we first sang, Come, O Long, Expected Jesus. Finally, we get to hear this story.
When we lived in northern Virginia, there was a Toys-R-Us store on the road between our house and the church. On the way to church on Christmas Eve, I was always amazed at how crowded the parking lot was, the store lights ablaze, jammed with people buying those last-minute gifts. But after church, after we’d sung Joy to the World and blown out all the candles, after we’d said “Merry Christmas,” and gone back out into the night, something had changed. That store – and all the stores along that road – were as quiet as they ever were. Everything was still.
That’s what I love most about Christmas Eve: that stillness that comes after all the stories are told and the songs are sung. It’s as if, on Christmas Eve, the whole world waits.
It’s true, of course, that not everyone will be still this Friday night. While we are singing Silent Night, hospital hallways will be filled with staff who have given up their holiday to take care of people who need their care. Police will be making their rounds. Gas station clerks and flight attendants will be helping travelers. Ambulance drivers will stand ready.
Someone will be up, walking the halls of an empty house and grieving the loss of a loved one. Someone will be missing family they can’t afford to visit this year. Someone will be worrying about loved ones halfway around the world. Someone will be caught in a war not of her making. Someone will wonder what he will feed his family tomorrow.
But despite the songs that imply otherwise, it probably wasn’t very still or silent that night in that Bethlehem stable, either. Even so, God came and angels sang.
The world waits… for that light that shines in the darkness, for the hush that falls in the night, for the child we will call the Prince of Peace.
Join us on Christmas Eve, won’t you? We’ll be here at five o’clock, candles ready.