A hushed anticipation of Christ’s birth settled over the sanctuary as we entered. The stained glass windows appeared muted without the day’s sunlight to shine through them. The lanterns hanging from the rafters cast a diffused glow over the assemblage, not quite illuminating the entire room. The majesty of the moment held me in transfixed anticipation.
Soon, the chords of the first Christmas hymn rang forth
(select each song to share in this experience):
Midst the reading of the story of Christ’s birth, we sang the songs related to each part of His coming:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
The first noel, the angels did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields way they lay…
(Be sure to click play with this link)
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
And finally, as the joy and reverence and awe crescendoed in the night, ushers turned down the sanctuary lights, leaving the minister at the front of the church holding one lit candle representing Christ who came to be the Light of the world. Two ushers came forth and each drew light from the one, and row by row, Christ’s light passed from person to person. From candle to candle.
The beauty of the candlelight drew us deeper in the reverence and awe of the birth of Christ. We sang:
We sang all of the verses, the glow of the candle flames dancing in the breath of our hymn.
At the end, the minister told us to: “Go in peace and spread the great tidings that Jesus Christ was born.”
We exited, a profound hush settled over us.
This is how I spent my Christmas Eve’s as a child. The candlelight service at my church grounded me in the truth of the season. For a time, I forgot Santa Claus and the gifts under the tree. The holiness of this service held me in its splendor well into the evening.
Today, I can’t find a church that provides this experience. We’ve lost the holy and awesome nature of the night of Christ’s birth amidst the fanfare and commercialization of this day.
Do you attend a church that recreates this special night? One that draws the emotion of true worship over its congregation in a blanket of peace and joy? I want to experience this again, and I would love for anyone reading this to experience it, too. If you know of a Christmas Eve service similar to my memories, I beg you to share this post and provide the time and place of your Christmas Eve Candle Light service for anyone who reads this.
As you go into the night, remember:
Peace on earth and great joy to men!
Christ is born!
Note: I Do NOT own the copyrights to any of these songs.
Thank you to all who have posted links to these beloved hymns.
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If you only watch one clip, watch the one for The First Noel.
Apologies for any ads that appear in the video links.
I tried to use links without them.
Christ is born!