On Christmas Eve last year, my family and I participated in two Christmas Eve services.
The first lasted about five hours. The second was only one hour.
The first required getting up at 5:30 AM. The second required us to have a rushed dinner so we could leave the house at 5:30 PM.
The first was noisy, crowded, and eventually became a little stinky, smelly, and dirty. The second had subdued lighting, padded seats, and professional-quality Christmas music.
At both we were surrounded by complete strangers (we are new to town), but in the first, many people greeted us with warm smiles and numerous greetings of “Merry Christmas!” At the second, nobody greeted us at all, except for a guy who shook our hand as we entered the building by saying, “Welcome!”
The Second Christmas Eve Service
You might recognize some of the tell-tale signs of the second Christmas Eve service. Yes, it was a traditional Christmas Eve Service at a local church. They had the tree, the lights, the Christmas Carols, and about 100 people dressed up in their holiday best. Scripture passages were read. Songs were sung. It was a beautiful performance.
…And it was a performance.
At the beginning, the band entered the stage from the wings, and the lead guitar player said this, “We’re glad you are hear, and we hope you enjoy this Christmas Special we have prepared for you. All you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the music. Near the end of the hour, there will be a song which you will be invited to sing along with. After that, you can go home, enjoy your Christmas presents and stocking stuffers.”
Then they launched into the music, and they played wonderfully well for about an hour. Several of the song I had never heard before, but were done quite well. Then, as promised, we were invited to stand and sing the closing song, Joy to the World. The pastor then got up, and thanked us for coming, and invited any of us who were visiting to join them on Sunday morning for their church service. With that, we were dismissed.
On the way home, our girls voiced two complaints. First, the church didn’t have any candles for us to hold, and second, they didn’t even sing Silent Night. I was actually disappointed with both of those things as well. Churches, please bring back the candles that we get to hold, and sing more of the traditional Christmas songs!
But all in all, it was what many Christians around the country experience for a Christmas Eve Service.
The First Christmas Eve Service
But what about that first Christmas Eve Service we went to at 5:30 AM?
Well, it was something our neighbor told us about. We gathered with a bunch of other people from our town in the local gymnasium of the Junior High School to put together boxes of food and gift bags for over 250 needy families in our town.
I estimate that about 500 people showed up to help. I have rarely seen so many people with so much Christmas joy. There were smiles on everyone’s faces, with laughter and shouts of “Merry Christmas!” all around. One thing that surprised me most was the number of young people there. I estimate that well over half the people who were there were under twenty years old. These were high school and junior high kids who showed up at 5:30 AM on one of their days off from school to help prepare gift boxes for the needy in the community!
Wendy and the girls and I got to put together about 10-15 boxes of food and gifts, and then we went and delivered them to five different families. They were all quite needy, and when we brought the gifts to their doors, everyone said, “Merry Christmas!” and “Thank you so much!” At one house, a nine-year old girl came out and said to our oldest daughter, “I don’t know you, but I am going to hug you anyway.” And Taylor hugged her right back.
A couple of the houses we entered reeked from stale smoke, rotting food, and sick cats. The stench in one reminded me of the smell that might have accompanied the place of Jesus’ birth.
But at every place, we were greeted with Christmas cheer, and we felt the Spirit of Christmas well up in our hearts as well.
Which Christmas Eve Looked More Like Jesus?
As I sat through the second Christmas Eve Service at the local church, I could not help but notice the stark contrast between the two Christmas Eve “Services” we had participated in that day.
Only one of them actually had any service. The other was a performance.
One of them was full of Christmas cheer, joy, love, and generosity. The other was… well… I saw some smiles and handshakes, but overall, the attitude was fairly hushed and “holy.”
One of them helped the poor, hungry, and needy in our community in a tangible way. The other helped some church musicians put on a mini concert. I am sure it lifted some spirits, but everyone sure rushed out of there pretty quickly afterwards…
Which Christmas Eve service looks more like Jesus? Which one looks more like what the church is supposed to be and do as we follow Jesus? Which one better represents the Kingdom of God in this world?
As we drove home after the second service, I asked the girls that if they could only do one or the other next year, which one would it be?
The decision was unanimous: they wanted to help the people in the community.
Our Third Christmas Eve Service
I always have to work Christmas Day, and so our family has “Christmas” on December 26th, which makes December 25th our “Christmas Eve.” So on that night, we had our third Christmas Eve Service in our living room with just the five of us.
Among other things, we talked about the birth of Jesus and prayed about other ways we can share His love with people in our community this year.
We also lit candles and sang Silent Night.
What are your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day traditions? Do any of them help you share the love of Jesus to those around you?