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The late service on Christmas Eve | Worship


Last updated 12/23/2015 at Noon

Some have tears in their eyes, some look as if they are asleep on their feet.

Some are wrestling with young children, and some are bent over with hands locked in a white-knuckle grip on the pew in front of them. Aging hips make it difficult to stand.

It’s about three minutes before midnight on Dec. 24. The sanctuary is full. There are rows of folding chairs, and people standing in the back.

As the organ starts the familiar chords of “Silent Night,” even the littlest ones become quiet.

The acolytes borrow the tiny flame from the altar candles and slowly walk up the aisles, sharing the light back and forth, from one side to the other.

Two minutes to midnight, worshippers carefully pass the small candle flame across the pews to grandmothers, strangers, lovers, nephews and friends.

The volunteers in charge of microphones and electric lights start turning off the flood lamps above the nave. The spots illuminating the altar go dim.

The Christmas tree stays lit, and the first verse starts: “Silent night, holy night…”

It is one minute to midnight.

By now, every candle in the place is lit, and molten wax drips onto the paper liner covering the tender skin of thumbs and fingers. They squint to see the words. Some sing, some hum.

Some just stand there, quiet.

There is a big clock on the wall opposite the altar. The slender second hand swings up to meet both the minute and the hour hands hovering over the 12.

The pastor smiles. She’s the only one who can see it.

The fourth verse: “Son of God, loves pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace…”

The candles become a kind of prayerful protest. Worshippers hold them as if they had power.

The flame, for all of them that night, is an assertion that the darkness cannot overcome the Light.

In the face of tyranny, bigotry, greed and violence – the little candle on Christmas Eve becomes a declaration: “God is good and love is stronger than fear.”

The song ends: “Jesus, Lord at thy birth!”

People blow out their tiny symbols of holy strength. Kids yawn. Grandfathers reach to grab coats.

Blessed, forgiven, inspired and sleepy, people begin moving toward the doors.

The lights come back on, and the blue haze of 400 extinguished candles wafts in the air.

Two minutes after midnight. It’s Christmas Day.

It’s time to go home.


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