Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Church Services

Looking back over the years, my favorite church services have taken place at Christmastime. Growing up we always participated in the Christmas Pageant at the Reformed Church of Oradell, NJ. My two sisters and I were most often angels. Every time I hear the song "Oh Holy Night!" I still have an urge to "fall on my knees" and raise my arms on cue.

The year Ashley was born, we were cast as Mary, Joseph and (9-month-old) baby Jesus. Two years later when Hayden was born, Ashley and I were again in the cast as a sheep with her shepherd.  Then my parents moved to Robbinsville, NJ and found a church closer to home.

Living down here we have created our own traditions of attending Christmastime services. My favorite service is always "The Carol of Many Nations" at Princeton Theological Seminary.

The familiar Advent and Christmas scriptures are read by PTS students, staff and faculty in their native tongues. Each of the three services has a different group of people reading the scriptures. This year there was a Deaf performing artist (Noah Buchholz) who encouraged the crowd to help him present his scripture verse. Hymns are sung from all over the globe and in many different languages.The service concludes with the reading of Matthew 5:14 ("You are the light of the World.") said in each of the languages, and the passing of the light as the student choir sings "Peace, Peace." It humbles me to be reminded that God and Jesus are in every corner of the globe.

On Christmas Eve we normally attend two, if not three, services. As in the past few years, we attend the 7 PM service at Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church. This year Ashley sang with the Children's Choir. My favorite part of the service is when the children go up and decorate the Nativity Scene with any tiny plastic animal they have -- even rhinos. As our church has two services, and we go to the earlier of the two, we often catch up with friends from the other service at this one.

Ideally after a nap, we attend the 11 PM service at The First Presbyterian Church of Hamilton Square. Due to the late time, the candlelight service is not a kid-friendly. That's fine by us, though, as Ashley tends to sleep while Pastor Doug preaches.

We drive home past Woodlane Avenue, which always sets up a runway for Santa.

Like magic, Ashley always wakes up when we come home. Thanks to NORAD, she knows Santa arrives in Lawrenceville about the time we are at church. Sure enough, when she opens the front door -- the gifts are waiting to be opened and the stocking is full. Yes, we do stay awake and open presents. This also means, we have the chance to sleep in late on Christmas morning.

A final picture of a church service from a few years ago. The Pennington Presbyterian Church was undergoing renovations, so they held their early evening service in a local barn. The message of the babe being born in a stable seemed to come to life as we were in a barn.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy, Healthy New Year!

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