Christmas Eve memories
I’ve lived through quite a few Christmas Eves…more than half of them here at Chapel Hill! I was reflecting upon some of my most memorable of the lot.
Yakima, second grade – I was out in our front yard on Park Avenue late Christmas Eve when I was 8 years old. (Yeah…it was safe for us to do that back then! Those were the days!) As I spied through our front room picture window, I could swear I saw Santa working around the Christmas tree. Red suit and everything. I still have the vision in my mind. I remember thinking he was a little early, but I was very excited! And I kept it to myself! Didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
Scotland – My first Christmas in St. Andrews, 1985, was the loneliest of my life. I had no close friends yet and the whole town shut down. Even food service in our residence hall, Deans Court, was dismissed. I saw, literally, no one the next day and felt pretty sorry for myself.
By contrast, the next year, I drove with two friends, Jack and Priscilla, to a little country church near Dundee for the Christmas Eve service. It was snowy and the church was tiny. The pews faced each other, as is common in many ancient church buildings. The service was quiet, gentle even. It could not have been more simple. I sat with lit candle looking across at a handful of worshippers…and it was very sweet.
Chapel Hill (1995) – Cyndi was super pregnant. In the days before cell phones were common, I borrowed someone’s “mobile phone” and sat it on my pulpit as I preached four Christmas Eve sermons in our gymnasium. Our Christmas baby was considerate and put off his arrival until the next morning when we left Rachel with my folks and headed to St. Jo’s for the birth of Cooper.
COVID (2020) – Ten services…over two days…because we were not allowed to have more than 250 in any one service. What a marathon! It seems like ages ago.
And now, Christmas Eve 2023. I suspect it will be memorable for me because this will be my last as your Senior Pastor. By my calculations, we’ve had more than 100,000 people come through our doors on Christmas Eve over the last 36 years. 36 times I tried to find a fresh way to tell an ancient story…the greatest story ever told! God with us. Imagine!
And this weekend, I’ll take a 37th shot at it. As I have every year, I am praying that God will bring many thousands to the foot of the manger. Praying that many will discover their savior for the first time. Praying that it will be a fresh start of devotion for hundreds whose faith has grown stale. Praying that, through the incredible music, decorations, candles, and words, that Immanuel will show up. Again. For the 37th time in a row!
I hope you will join me for this memorable Christmas Eve…and please, bring a friend.
P.S. – Please note there will NOT be regular Sunday morning worship services on December 24. Instead, we invite you to join us for one of the Christmas Eve services at 3:00, 5:00, 7:00 or 9:00 pm.