In the year I was eight years old, I was allowed to attend the Christmas candlelight service at midnight with my Dad. With six children in our family the privilege was rare, staying up late and going alone with Dad. At the time, it was just about the best Christmas present I could have received. However I didn’t know then … how much better it was going to get.
The year had been one of the most difficult of my school years. The year before I had failed grade two, quite miserably. There was so much shame and remorse in my little heart at the hurt this brought to my parents. Consequently, I worked hard when I returned to school that fall and had a good first quarter. As a result, the school put me in a class where I was doing both grade two work and forging ahead to grade three work. Dad spent many evenings trying to help me understand the concepts of my homework. Finding it difficult I was often quite frustrated with my efforts.
This was the situation I found myself in that Christmas. Tired and discouraged, all I could see was a long year yet ahead of me. It was at this point that Dad invited me to go with him to the service. Just me.
The Wonderland Journey
I felt special and so grown up. Mom made extra sure that I was properly dressed and that I knew what to do.
We left the house shortly before midnight. I was sure we were driving into a wonderland. The streets were so quiet. Snow was falling and even the street lights added to the holiness of the night with a halo of freshly falling snow surrounding its glow.
Clutching my hands in silent anticipation, my eyes just couldn‘t take it all in fast enough. I wanted Dad to drive real slow.
Smiling, Dad looked over at me, and with twinkling warmth in his eyes he patted my hand. I smiled back and said nothing, not wanting to break the enchantment which seemed to have enveloped us.
A Christmas Transformation
As we got out of the car a sudden shyness over came me, I was overwhelmed and Dad, instead of hurrying me towards the big doors, quietly, reassuringly took my hand and silently walked towards the church.
I could hear the strains of a familiar Christmas Carol coming from the organ in the sanctuary.
“Angels from the Realms of Glory”,
I looked up, expecting to see angels surrounding us with the Glory from Heaven.
I stayed close to Dad as we were greeted at the church door. Everyone was so quiet, so expecting. I didn’t know what they were expecting but my heart was beating furiously in anticipation.
Walking into the sanctuary, I was momentarily stunned. Candles were everywhere. Not ordinary candles but long, tall, stately, ivory candles which sparkled, glimmered and peeked from every corner.
At the front of the church the immense Christmas tree shimmered with magnificence. Pine boughs, flowers and decorations were strung along the communion railing surrounding the altar.
The smell of fresh pine together with the pungent aroma of burning beeswax hung in the still air like hallowed incense.
A New Found King
Feeling a tender nudge we moved towards our seats near the front of the church. Adults would come and shake hands with Dad and would smile warmly at me. I sat, ever so proudly, beside Dad, the only child in the service. With my own hymnal, Dad helped me find the first hymn. Suddenly, the organist started playing a little louder, announcing we were about to begin.
While we sang, two altar boys, quite a bit older than I, reverently preceded Pastor, who, dressed in full Christmas regalia, slowly approached the altar. I was absolutely spell bound. There was silence for a long moment, Pastor turned and with outstretched arms blessed us on this most holy night.
We once again began to sing with glorious heavenly worship and I just knew the angels had joined us in our joy.
Pastor did not go to the pulpit for his message but spoke from the floor beneath the towering Christmas tree. He drew our attention to both trees in the sanctuary. The one celebrating Jesus’ birth and the one commemorating his death.
I didn’t understand everything Pastor said that night but I realized for the first time, that these were the same Jesus. The one born on this night was the same Jesus who died on the cross. The same King who rose from the grave on Easter morning. I was astounded. Easter and Christmas connected for me that night.
Dad felt my tears, seemed to know, and put a comforting arm around me.
We stood then and sang “O Come all ye Faithful”. I sang with as much love and energy as I could and gave it all to my newly discovered King.
Christmas Forever Changed
That Christmas Eve service turned out to be one of the most spiritually significant moments of my young life. I never thought of Jesus the same way again.
With the candles, the silence, the reverence, the elegant opulence, I felt and knew for the first time, that we were honouring a King. It was silencing for me.
Jesus, in that one night grew from a baby in a manger to be my glorious King forever. To this day the aroma of beeswax candles and evergreen pine boughs rekindles this poignant memory in my heart.