1. Christmas Eve Worship (Programs)
2. Popping the Question
3. Not #3 in importance, but saving the best for last.
At St. Paul Lutheran School, our Christmas Program was the main worship service for many on Christmas Eve.
From kindergarten all the way through 9th grade, my class recited, sang, stood and sat in synch, and shared the Good News which came to earth on the first Christmas.
The gym would be packed. Attendance of more than 1,000 was common. We practiced for weeks. Practiced walking in, practiced our verses, readings, and songs. And practiced walking out - sometimes carrying the chairs back to our classrooms.
We dressed up. Girls in dresses and boys in shirts and ties and sometimes, a jacket. It got warm in the gym, even in late December. It was dark in the gym with special lights illuminating the stage where an altar was set up and a lectern stood for the pastor or other individual speakers.
"O, Come All Ye Faithful," was usually the processional hymn sung by all as we marched in and "Joy to the World" a fitting closing hymn. Joy to the World meant to us that once we got back in the classroom there would be a goody bag waiting for us with nuts and candy inside. Then we waited for Mom or Dad to find us so we could go home to open presents around our tree.
As every Christmas Eve passes, those programs take on more meaning in my heart than they had while I was living them.
In 1983, the night was going to be a special event after the program. In 1983, my sister was in the program as an 8 year old, so I'm guessing she was in 3rd grade. My girlfriend from college was invited to spend the holiday and the two of us sat with Mom and Dad on the bleachers.
After we walked back home (we lived just around the corner from the time I started 3rd grade). The five of us exchanged gifts and then my parents and sisters headed off to bed. They were in cahoots with me on the plan. A fire was blazing in the fireplace, Christmas music was playing on the record player, and the tree's lights were twinkling.
At the right time, I got on a knee and proposed. The answer, "Yes," and with shouts of excitement the three came back down for another celebration. That's 32 years ago.
The most important Christmas Eve didn't even show up on the calendar.
And that's why, out of all the moving Christmas programs, special gifts, and memorable moments this Christmas... the very first one is the best one. A glorious, Holy Day. The best present. EVER.
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim thy holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
watch of wondering love.
How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv'n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.