All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7
“Why is this night different from all other nights?” It is a question that echoes through my heart every Christmas Eve as the sun is setting and when, according to Jewish tradition, a new day begins. It is why we light the white candle on Christmas Eve night to welcome the birth of the Christ child, and do not wait until Christmas morning.
Now I am sure that if you were to ask most any child why this night is different from all other nights the answer would have to do with a jolly, chubby man dressed in red who rides through the air on a sleigh full of toys drawn by eight flying reindeer and who delivers those toys to sleeping children around the world. Well, maybe that is because the church has not done a good job of passing on another reason.
I remember my own childhood Christmas Eves. During the day my best friends who lived in our neighborhood (Vicki, Donna, and Delores) and I would meet at one of our homes for a Christmas Eve tea party of cookies and hot cocoa. When it was about sundown, my family and the rest of the Tuckers would go to my grandmother’s house to eat Mama Tucker’s chicken and dumplings and Aunt Mae’s caramel cake. After the meal we would open presents.
We all have our Christmas Eve memories, some better than others. Some of my best ones are from the time when I served the congregation at Saxapahaw, a white frame church right up beside the Haw River. Our Christmas Eve service began at 7:00. We had a live Chrismon tree that by this time was getting a bit dry, as was the Advent wreath, and so one of our members, a volunteer firefighter, sat on the front row with a fire extinguisher on his lap – just in case. At the end of the communion service we blew out the four Advent candles and lit the big white Christ candle. No more waiting. He had come. The light of the world had come.. Then we took the light from that Christ candle and lit our small candles and went out into the front yard and gathered in a circle to sing Silent Night, and bid one another Merry Christmas. And as much I loved it all, my most precious memory is of sitting on the back steps of that little church, alone, after everyone else had gone home, and listening to the river as it flowed past. There is a stillness to Christmas, a peace that is unlike any other time. The days and years flow by like the river, but the stars above me were the same ones that shone on the manger. I bow in awe.
May your Christmas Eve be filled with hope, peace, joy, and love. Take time to be still for a few moments tonight, and know God is with us. He has come. Emanuel!
O little town on Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
The hope and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Pastor Rachel Moser