A Late Christmas

Traditionally, late January is the time of year that my family sends out its Christmas cards. So I figure, a la Brown, it's not too late for me to do a Christmas reflection.

Christmas-Eve-service reflection, more specifically. My thought (I have one) on this might be confusing -- Lindsay looked at me in silence for several seconds when I was telling her about it. The good thing is it's also very boring. So if you don't get it, you're not missing much. Mastery in this area is non-required.

My favorite part of the Christmas Eve service is right before we do the candle-lighting bit and the pastor stands up front and explains the etiquette for not singeing your neighbor's clothing or scalding them with wax as you grow the candle flame along the rows to all the congregation.

Of course, the part after it is great - the lights going dim, the rise and fall of all those points of light, the heat coming off small flames indoors, the hands all connected to the light attached to a people who, let's be honest, don't really get together much.

But once the candles are all lit, it's back to the weight of Christmas. People in a crowded room, the solemnity of a divine birth, the silence of trying to get a little bit of that wonder back - the wonder of being a kid at Christmas or the wonder of believing in something.

The weight gets to be a lot to handle for me, and it's nice to have a sudden break from all that magnificence. The pastor has finished his or her sermon; I'm feeling that incomparable joy one gets at a church service almost being over; she's been talking about the lowly conditions of our savior's birth, about the conditions of our very cold world, about the pain and heartache and loneliness that often accompanies Christmas.

And then she needs to lead us in transition to the candle lighting. She explains, almost apologetically, sorry for breaking the mood, that the person with the unlit candle needs to tip their candle up to the already lit one in the hands of their neighbor. Not the other way around, don't want to burn anybody. And parents, will you please keep a close eye on your children.

I like it because we finally get some instructions I can handle. Joy to the World! is too much for me. And the instructions set the tone for the rest of it. I love watching the people be extra careful with their candles, strangers taking pains to not set one another's hair on fire.

And maybe it's sacrilege. Maybe I'm faint-hearted. But I'll take that -- that moment when one candle lights another and, as instructed, the people are briefly acutely mindful of their neighbor's well-being -- over feelings of Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards Men.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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