I wasn't looking forward to it. The days preceding the Christmas Eve service were full of surprises that left me with an impression that the special service might be special for unintended reasons. First, my assistant Emily, who was the primary staff resource assisting our volunteers in planning the service, caught the flu. I was scared to call her. When I couldn't avoid asking her a question, her voice was so strained with flueyness that the virus seemed brawny enough to be passed along through her voice alone. I didn't even bother praying for a miraculous recovery by Christmas Eve. I had no faith, sorry.
Next, we discovered that our sound system wouldn't be repaired fully for the service. One of our two main speakers needed a new part that was to be sent via horseback from California. We were told it'd be five weeks before we heard from that speaker again. It was the second such delay in the past two months, so we fixed the problem by purchasing a new PA system the day before Christmas Eve.
I could go on, but I'm getting anxious again just writing about it. In short, our run of cursed Christmas Eve preparations continued and everywhere we turned a surprise popped up.
On the night of the service, the most unexpected thing happened: 450 people showed up. Of course, we ran out of programs, seats, and candles. To top it off, the stage monitors weren't working, which meant our musicians couldn't hear themselves.
Despite the frantic preparation something still and solemn settled over my soul the moment the lights were dimmed at the end of the service and the candles were lit while Silent Night was sung. The darkness was punctured by small circles of light framing 400 beautiful faces (50 faces didn't get to glow, because of the above-mentioned lack of candles). The stress of the previous three days, and our determination to not mess up Christmas, slipped away into the darkness. All that remained were the faces of people I knew didn't care about the speakers, the imperfections, the not-quite-good-enough impression I was sure everyone would leave with.
Tears slipped from eyes, smiles pushed dimples and wrinkles into view, families embraced. For that moment, the sublimity of hope made perfect sense. Light pushed out darkness and God came so near that I felt it - and it was a perfect contrast to the worry of the previous three days. For that moment, it reminded me that the light is not ours to control. And if it was, we'd miss God showing up because we'd be so busy congratulating ourselves on a job well done.