When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15
What are you doing Christmas Eve? It really is a great question. All of my life, Christmas Eve has been as much a celebration as Christmas Day itself. The family would come over, there would be food, lots of food, Mama and the bigger sisters would gather in one of the bedrooms to wrap presents…lots of presents. I can remember that the three youngest of Mama and Daddy’s eight, dubbed the three little ones, would anxiously wait outside that bedroom door dying to see the name tags on the boxes. Would it be mine?
As we grew older things changed some but not really. I think as we became non-believers some of the excitement faded, but it was still special, it was still family, it was still Christmas Eve. One thing that was not part of our Christmas Eve celebration was church. I think, though I am not sure, that Baptist Jesus followers didn’t do the church thing on Christmas Eve. I mean it was ok because we made up for it on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. While the Lutherans, Methodists, and Catholics were home watching Bonanza and the Wonderful World of Disney…we had to go to church. So, it probably worked out okay. I’m sure it didn’t matter to God either way.
Back in 1986, I had the privilege of serving at the First Baptist Church of Cobden, Illinois. After I had been there a few years I got the crazy idea of having a Christmas Eve Service. No churches in town were doing one, at least not Protestant ones, and it just seemed like a good idea. I mean, the shepherds, said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” And, hey, if they went to see Jesus…we should go to worship Jesus!
I remember when I shared my idea with my friends who happened to be deacons, they were at least partially sure I had sprung a leak somewhere. We batted it around for a few hours (just kidding, a few minutes) and they agreed to give it a try. Some said, “Now pastor, don’t be surprised if nobody comes.” Well, we were all surprised not because no one came, but it seemed everyone came.
From the first Christmas Eve the building was full or almost full every year. Many wonderful traditions were born during those years…traditions involving family and friends. It was pretty wonderful. I’ve been gone from Cobden for twenty years now and unless something has changed, they still gather on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Redemption’s Child. I suppose my friend Austin is still playing, “Mary Did You Know” on his old six string.
Well, in 2000, God thought it was time for a new chapter, so we moved to Harrisburg to pastor at Dorrisville Baptist Church. Well, guess what? They didn’t have a Christmas Eve service either. Again, I got this crazy idea. Why not start one here too? At that time, I believe there was not a Baptist doing a Christmas Eve service so it was definitely, shall we say, innovative. Well, I talked to my friends who happened to be deacons, they were at least partially sure I had sprung a leak somewhere. We batted it around for a few hours (just kidding, only one or two) and they agreed to give it a try. The general consensus was that it probably wouldn’t work. The music guy said he could only do it if we did it at 5pm…so 5pm it was.
Well, guess what? Yup, from the first service, it was a full or almost full house. We sang carols, read the Bible, lit candles, and softly sang Silent Night. I think some people came to see if I could really preach about 15 minutes. Smile. But the bottom line is that it has become the favorite service of most of our members. Families come and pack a row of chairs or two. It is genuinely, sincerely, very special. At least one time, it was snowing to beat the band with four or five inches on the ground by the time our service started. I thought, “Surely they won’t come out in this.” But I was wrong…they came.
So, what are you doing Christmas Eve? Can I give you a special invitation to find a service somewhere and attend? We all know how rough this year has been…it is almost beyond words. And yes, I know we will need to be careful—but somehow, we need to worship. Honestly, if we can go to Walmart, we can go to church. I know our church is blessed with a large facility that will allow us to socially distance. We are also going to stream the service live online. Why? I want as many people as possible to experience this wonderful part of Christmas…the part where we corporately thank God for Redemption’s Child. That night, that Silent Night, I believe we will take home a special gift. It will be the gift of a promise kept…that a Child, Jesus was born and because of that, we have the assurance that no matter what, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne