Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Week: Words

Previously: Greens, Dog, Fields

"Do you want the German words included again?" She asked this with some noticeable trepidation in her voice, giving away her slight hope that I would say no.

"Yes, absolutely I would. Thank you."

And with that, the church secretary was back in her office to format the Christmas Eve bulletin.

I grew up attending Christmas Eve services in a UCC church with a German Reformed heritage. When they settled here, many of these congregations originally held their entire worship in German until eventually they voted to begin incorporating English, if not switching to it entirely. But as a nod to its history, my church had a tradition to sing the first verse of "Silent Night" in English, and then again in German, before continuing with the rest of the song:

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! 
Alles schläft; einsam wacht 
Nur das heilige Elternpaar. 
Das im Stalle zu Bethlehem war, 
Bei dem himmlischen Kind,
Bei dem himmlischen Kind.

As with many churches, the sanctuary lights would be turned off at this point, and the only light came from the candles that everyone held, the flame passed from one to another before joining in this beloved carol.

So I knew this tradition in my formative years. When I was called to pastor a church that didn't observe this I didn't think to add it, although in many of those years I travelled back to my hometown church to experience it during their late service. But once I began at a new church that had long observed it, I was resolved to keep it.

I may have a certain reputation as The Pastor Who Makes Us Do All These New Things, but you can pull these German words on Christmas Eve from my cold, dead hands. Sure, that's overly dramatic, but church people are often overly dramatic when it comes to changing things, so I'll claim this one instance for myself.

If pressed to describe why I love hearing and singing these words during this moment so much, I suppose that my answer would be a sense of connection to a time and place in my past when this season only communicated beauty and truth and simplicity. For years and years, this day was only magical and warm and marked by reflective songs sung by candlelight.

This was before I lost loved ones we tended to see this time of year and before lean years when my wife and I couldn't afford to give each other very much. This was before visits to see one side of the family stopped with the death of my last grandparent. This was even before I had to start leading these services--with all the accompanying expectations--rather than getting to sit through them with everyone else.

Before all of that, there were these words, and so much else, and they helped make Christmas what it is.

And even despite all those changes and developments and losses, they still do.

So now I'm keeping them. Always.

(Image source)