“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Christmas Eve is perhaps my favorite day of the year. I love the music, the candles, the colors, and the realization that the wait for Christmas is finally over! It’s here—Christ is born!
Christmas Eve is also full of memories. I remember that as kids, my friend David and I used to ignore the burning wax on our fingers in an effort to see who could keep their flame lit the longest. Or that time in the parking lot after the service when Matt and I asked our parents if we could have a sleepover because we forgot it was Christmas Eve. In later years, I remember watching It’s A Wonderful Life with my family between services, much to the chagrin of my sister, Rachel. And I remember one year how snow started to descend during the midnight service, and at its conclusion, we walked out into the most beautiful winter wonderland.
A particular memory that stands out is the time that my neighbor Farley asked my Dad if I could read scripture during the Christmas Eve service. As the pastor, Dad resisted idea at first because he didn’t want it to appear that he was showcasing his children, but Farley’s nagging eventually won him over.
I was in first grade and had just learned to read. I remember practicing reading the scripture in the kitchen over and over. I wanted to make sure that I would pronounce every word correctly. That night, I strode up to the lectern, smoothed out my paper, and looked out at the congregation. I remember seeing many people that I loved: my sisters, my grandparents, Farley and John, and some of my best friends. Apparently, I stood there looking over the congregation for so long that Farley was afraid I wasn’t ever going to read! At last, I broke the silent tension and boomed with the biggest voice I could muster: Luke Chapter Two!
After I finished reading, I hopped down from the box I was standing on and headed toward my seat. However, before returning to sit with my grandparents, I ran over and gave Farley a big hug. Guessing by the number of times I’ve heard her tell that story, I know that hug meant a lot to her.
For me, that moment is incredibly representative of why Christmas Eve is so special. It’s an evening full of scripture, of warmth, of memories. It’s an evening of fulfilled promise. It’s an evening when love overwhelms us to the extent that we can’t help but run with childlike abandon to hug the people that mean so much to us. I feel blessed when I think about all the people in my life who I wish that I could run and hug now.
For some of us, this Christmas Eve may look very different than in the past. I’m lucky that I was able to go back to West Virginia and be with family, but it will still be different. My parents’ house is in a new town, my Dad won’t be leading the service, and my sister and brother-in-law will be missing. My heart goes out to my extended family, particularly my aunt and uncle, who have to experience Christmas Eve for the first time without their son and my cousin, Trey, who passed away several weeks ago; Trey’s presence will all too painfully be missed several days later when the entire extended family gathers at my grandparents’ house.
This Christmas Eve may look very different for many Global Mission Fellows, too. Most GMFs will spend this Christmas Eve at their placement sites—sometimes half a world away from their family and other loved ones. However, no matter where we are this Christmas Eve, I hope that we reflect on some of those memories that have shaped our own experience, and that one day we will look back at this Christmas Eve and the memories it creates. I thank God for the Farleys of our lives, for the people who we can’t help but running to and embracing. But most of all, I am thankful for the times in our lives when God comes running to embrace us. Love came down at Christmas many years ago, but that love all lovely, love divine, continues to come to us every day and every year. Love be yours and love be mine this Christmas Eve.