"Still, Still, Still..."

Christmas Eve is my favorite time at First Baptist, a holy night for sure. Gathering with hundreds of others to sing, light candles, recite again the story, and share the LORD's Supper. All in an hour. Families together, in one place-- something rare for some of them now that the children have grown up. But it still happens, if ever it happens, at Christmas.

The church I grew up in was a wonderful church that offered so much, but it did not have a Christmas Eve service. During my high school years I would find myself at Suffolk Christian Church at 11PM for theirs. The father of one of my best friends was the pastor of that church. I loved the beauty and solemnity of the service. Walking out at midnight and it was Christmas Day already. Later, as a young pastor myself, I did not have a service in the first two churches I served. We'd have something, of course-- candles and communion-- but a few days before the 24th. By Christmas Eve, Audrey and I wanted to be in our home towns with our families like everybody else, and distance made it difficult if not impossible. It was only when we moved back to Virginia from Florida in 1989, closer to Keysville and to Suffolk that it became a regular part of my ministry. Now I wouldn't think of doing without a Christmas Eve service in our schedule of Advent gatherings.

I so look forward to seeing everyone. And looking into the faces of hundreds of people who have gathered to worship. Many have gotten up from a big family meal and the opening of presents. Others will eat later, or make their way to one last party, after the service. They know that I will not be keeping them too long, and that I am just glad that they made it here at all.
Most of these folks I have known for a long time. Others I recognize because they come every year. Maybe they belong to another church, or not to any-- but they have found something here on Christmas Eve that resonates with them and perhaps meets a spiritual longing that they have.

What makes it meaningful for me is that I know their stories. The good things that have happened since last year. A baby has been born. Graduation and a new job in Raleigh. A girl I have known since her childhood smiles when she comes to the table where I am standing with the bread and the cup. She flashes an engagement ring and I smile back, and nod. Later I will tell her that the ring almost blinded me when the light hit it. But, how happy I am that she has found the one God has prepared for her.

I know the difficulties others have experienced, too. The challenges to faith that they have endured. I remember that it was just a few months ago that we held a funeral for their loved one--right here in this place.

Yet, here they are again. Refusing to give up. They still believe, after all. And it surprises even them sometimes. From somewhere deep in their soul they feel the stirrings of faith. A flame still flickers that the darkness just cannot extinguish.

We end the service the same way every year. After communion, our Deacons filter out into the aisles and light everyone's candle from the Christ Candle in the center of our wreath. We sing "Silent Night, Holy Night," raising our lights high on that last verse. It is so beautiful. All is calm, all is bright in the glow of it.

Then, out into the night we scatter. Back home for dinner or on to another party perhaps. Traditions set and kept for a long time by now.

It's the sameness of it all that I think I like the most. The familiarity of the carols, and the story from Luke 2. And the peace that comes from doing it together like this for all of these years, and as we remember that others have done it for generations before us. You would think it might lose its significance after so long-- but it never does.

To borrow a phrase from TS Eliot: Christmas Eve is “a still point in a turning world.”

I hope I will see you tonight.
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