o night divine

The candles are lit. Evergreen is everywhere, studded with strands of white lights.

There is mingling, laughter, and hugs between familiar faces, and awkward observation and frequent phone-checking by people sitting alone. Some are here by invitation, some are here every weekend, and some are here just for lip service.

o night divine: only one birth ever caused movement like this (Copperlight Wood)

All of them are waiting to meet a friend…not all of them realize it, though.

Before the service starts, the music starts to play:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

People are starting to find their seats, arranging puffy jackets and squirmy children and travel mugs of coffee. Some are expectant, some are uncertain, and some are exhausted and discouraged after a day that was meant for joy but went awry somewhere between a late breakfast and an early dinner.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

We know the words and hum along as we divide and conquer our six kids, staggering those who are goofing off between the other ones who are bickering.

Someone kicks a coffee cup over, caffeinating the carpet around us. I lunge for it, save what’s left, and set the cup upright. We rearrange kids again and put someone with shorter legs next to me.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

More people arrive. Several rounds of musical chairs in the dim lighting indicate a packed house, and no one is sitting alone anymore. Some extend hands and make hasty introductions. Others peek to their right and left, make eye contact with strangers and acquaintances, and smile quietly. Coats are shuffled, elbows are bumped, apologies are whispered.

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The volume of the song is changing and the tempo slows as people settle in their rows. The frantic day with its mutinous agenda is dissolving, and my heart starts to set upright again.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;

In all our trials born to be our friend.

I stop singing along when I realize the words have been rearranged. A hush is falling as others notice it, too.

Expectancy hovers. We wait and listen, and something stirs.

Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His gospel is peace.

The atmosphere suddenly shifts. I’m not sure how it happened, but in less than a minute the mood changes from simple holiday cheer to something much more serious.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease!

This is no mere Christmas carol.     

This is the worship evoked by holiness.

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O night divine…O night when Christ was born!

A spark lit, and scattered. Across the dark auditorium rustling was heard as shapes rose.

About a dozen got to their feet, scattered throughout a room of hundreds.

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,

Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!

Ignited like shared flames in a candlelight service, people begin to stand all over the room. Babies are lifted off laps and placed on hips as parents and children, friends and strangers rise for the One they were waiting for…the Friend they came to meet.

Only one birth has ever caused movement like this.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

They’re on their knees. They’re on their feet. Hands are raised and hearts are full and the seats are empty.

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His power and glory evermore proclaim.

 

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