I grew up attending The United Methodist Church two blocks down from our house. The church was a small clapboard building on Main Street, with a tiny and aging congregation. On Christmas Eve at 6:00 PM, it was a sold out house. Ushers at the door distributed candles outfitted with round cardboard wax catchers, we entered the church the only light coming from the big pillar candles in the windows, and settled into the pews. Reverend Magee appeared at the lectern to signal the start of the service. As the congregations sang, “Angles we have heard on High” , four angels in white gowns with gold garland halos bobby pined to their heads, glowing candles in hand, led the choir from the back of the church up the center aisle and into the alter area. The angles lit the candles in four candelabras at the front of the church. At the conclusion of the song, Reverend Magee at the lectern and his wife , stationed at the back of the church with a flash light, began reading from the book of Luke , “In those days a decree went out…” the reading alternated from the front of the church to the back of the church telling the Christmas story . At the conclusion of the story everyone sang “Joy to the World” as the angles come down from the alter, passing the flame from their candles to the congregation until every candle was lit and the little church glowed. In closing, Reverend Magee ask the people gathered to take this light that came to world on this day, out into the world and into their home and into their hearts. The congregation silently filed down the aisle and out the doors in to the quiet dark streets, their shoulders hunched, hands cupped around the vulnerable frame.
In years since, I have attended many Christmas Eve services. Some with huge pipe organs, some with quartets of French horn, mandolin, oboe and guitar, some with huge choirs and liturgical dancers, all with beautiful decorations and lights. None of them touched me like that simple service and sight of the people, lit candles in hand, coming out the door of that little white church, making their way into the night.