Dressed in our Christmas finest, my family (my younger sister Andrea, Mom, Dad, and I) get into our car and drive to church for our usual candlelight Christmas Eve service. As we enter the sanctuary, the usher hands each of us our own candle. Andrea and I are excited that we are old enough to hold our own candles.
As we get situated in our usual spot, we put our candles in the pew rack and listen intently to the pastor as he preaches about this precious baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. Soon the time comes and the ushers begin to walk down the aisle. The usher lights the first candle on the end of the pew and then each person turns and lights the candle of the person next to them. I turn and light my sister’s candle. She turns and lights mom’s candle and Mom lights Dad’s candle. We stand holding our candles as the words to Silent Night begin to carry through the air and the lights are dimmed.
In the darkness of the sanctuary, we begin to sing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin, mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight, glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing alleluia, Christ the savior is born.” As we continue to sing, I turn and see tears trickling down mom’s face. I quietly ask, “Mom, why are you crying?” She simply responds, “I miss my mom and dad and my sister and her family.” And as I listen to her response, I can’t help but smile as we begin to sing the next verse, “Silent night, holy night, son of God, love’s pure light, radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at thy birth.”
Soon, the song ends and in the silence of the night, I cannot help but realize the beauty in this night: the beauty of a child born to turn the world upside down, beauty in my family in our own brokenness and our own story, beauty in clinging to the promise of this precious child who was born to bring light in the midst of darkness, joy in the midst of sorrow, and so much more; a beauty that is forever proclaimed as we go out into the world to tell the good news of this precious holy child.
As we leave worship and walk out into the bitterness of a North Dakota winter, right past our church’s beloved nativity scene, I pause for a brief second and then run to catch up with my family. As we get into our car to head to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas Eve dinner and opening presents, I find myself humming along to “Silent Night”; words that remind me again and again of this precious gift who comes not wrapped in a bow but instead breaks into this world in the stench and stealth of a manger.