By Rev. Christi O. Brown
When I was young, my father set up outdoor games to play on Christmas Eve. Friends and neighbors would stop by and we’d have friendly competitions of archery or knocking over the tin can with a slingshot. We could stay out there all day playing until mom called us inside for cookies, cocoa and conversations. In a family that prided itself on productivity, it was nice to have a day just to be with others. No chores like emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash. Just quality time together.
Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year. It’s filled with anticipation and adoration, and it seems that everyone, at least for this one day, is focused on goodness and mercy. For many Christians, it involves fellowship with friends and family, as well as nativity plays and candlelight services at church, where we heartily sing favorite Christmas hymns.
When I was serving as a pastor, the candle lighting at the end of the Christmas Eve service was my absolute favorite part. It begins with the Christ candle in the center of the Advent wreath. That light is then shared with others, who in turn light the candles of those sitting next to them. It doesn’t take long for the whole sanctuary to be fully lit in candlelight, as all of our voices join together to sing Silent Night and Joy to the World.
It was always so touching to look out over the congregation holding up their candles. As each person and family was bathed in candlelight, I would think of how their year had been. Some had many things to celebrate, while others had experienced really tough times and had struggled. And yet everyone, no matter what they had been through, held up a candle. It never failed that those who had faced the biggest challenges held their candles the highest. I would always tear up as I thought about how Christ’s light had guided them and would continue to guide all of us in our lives.
The candlelight service is a visual reminder of the love and light that the Christ-child, born over 2000 years ago, brought into our world. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matt 1:23). Every time we see the light, we can remember that God is always with us.
My 7-year old daughter saw me writing this and asked if she could write something. Here is what she wrote, “When Jesus was born, light stood upon him. He was God’s Savior. That’s how our story began. What a lovely star to see. It was a beautiful time in Bethlehem, and that is where Mary and Joseph put baby Jesus down in a food bin that animals eat out of, but they made it a manger.”
So today, no matter where you find yourself, be it family games or a church service or a barn full of animals like baby Jesus, remember Emmanuel, who is always with you and will guide your way with love and light. And remember to share and pass this beautiful light on to all whom you meet this season and beyond.
Blessings & Merry Christmas!