It is a custom, I am sure, all over the world, for parish ministers to call each other on the phone when they get home from leading Christmas Eve services to unwind a bit and to share the bloopers that inevitably beset the services. Maybe a little bit of bragging happens, too.
Expectations are so high for that one night a year (Easter is the other one) and we obsess over every detail far in advance, trying to fit in at least five carols (and everyone has different favorites) and the six anthems the choir has prepared, plus a couple Scripture readings, a short homily and a heartfelt offering words to replenish the Ministerâ€™s Discretionary Fund (once known as the Fund for the Worthy Poor in my congregation).
We donâ€™t even say hello. It just begins the moment one answers the phone to the other. I picked up the phone at about 10 pm on Christmas Eve last year and heard, â€œOh my God, how was yours? The LIGHT BEARER DIDNâ€™T COME.â€
I thought, Oh, this is going to be good. Because I had a â€œlight thingâ€ happen at our Christmas Eve service, too â€“ at 5pm I went up to the choir loft to sing with the choir and leaned against the light panel and accidentally turned off the lights, casting all of us into darkness too dark to see our music — and then the 7:30 service ushers LIT THE CANDLES TOO EARLY!
Remember when fabulous French figure skater Surya Bonali wiped out in the ’94 Olympics? Yea, like that. In my imagination, because of course neither thing was that big a deal. They’ll just make good stories to giggle over with parishioners for years to come.
I guess what happened at my friendâ€™s church is that she had worked for years to introduce the concept of The Coming of the Light into their candlelight service where, for decades, they sang â€œSilent Nightâ€ and left in the dark without a benediction or anything.Â This drove her crazy. â€œWe donâ€™t celebrate the coming in of the light!â€ she says. So at long last she got the Worship Committee to agree to having a child come forth at a dramatic moment in the service â€“ she says, â€œAnd then arrived the Bearer of the Light.â€
So last night, she announced this
“AND THEN ARRIVED THE BEARER OF THE LIGHT”
And no kid.
For long minutes, no kid.
She ad-libbed. â€œAND THEN CAME JUSTIN, THE BEARER OF THE LIGHT.â€
But â€œJustinâ€ didnâ€™t show up.Â I mean for 3-4 minutes, just dead air.
What happened behind the scenes is that Justin and his mother couldnâ€™t get the little butane lighter going.Â They were frantically trying to get the clicker to work, while meanwhile my friend is up in front of the congregation going,
“SOMETIMES WE HAVE TO PATIENTLY AWAIT THE LIGHT”
And sheâ€™s having a total nervous breakdown and sheâ€™s so upset because right before the service she checked that butane lighter and everything was working FINE.
But you know, Justinâ€™s mother also wanted to check the lighter and light it so many dozens of times making sure it was operational that she burned the thing right out. Those things are eight bucks or something â€“ they donâ€™t have that many lights in them.
So five minutes goes by â€“ the most painful, sweaty five minutes you can imagine for the minister, and sheâ€™s still vamping,
“SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO WAIT A VERY LONG TIME FOR THE COMING OF THE LIGHT”
And finally, finally, the kid comes down the aisle with the unlit processional candle and some nice guy on the church staff goes up to my friend and hands her a Bic.
Itâ€™s just like, a total bomb of a moment.
But of course my friend says, â€œIt was the WORST. But everyone loved the service. They said itâ€™s the best one weâ€™ve ever had.â€
That’s why we love the Church, people.
Blessings on your holiday preparations. May the Light come in time for all of you.