Every December I write an article for The Citizen highlighting the blessings of going to church on Christmas Eve. I have often lifted up the simple beauty and closeness to God and family afforded us as we join in the Candlelighting Ceremony. This remains not only a highlight of Christmas Eve, but of the entire year.
I’d like to share with you this year about one of the Christmas Eve Services we have at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. It’s our Living Nativity Service, which begins every Christmas Eve at 4:00 p.m. You can imagine some of the details of this service by its name, but let me tell you a little more about it.
Over thirty years ago, we began our church and worshipped in the cafeteria of Fayette Elementary School on Hood Ave. Three years later we were blessed to be able to build and move into our sanctuary here on Highway 314. When we were able to hold our Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion Service in our formal sanctuary, we were very excited. And this experience remains available as we still offer two of these services at both 8:00 p.m., and the service that’s known as the “Midnight Service” at 11:00 p.m.
However, shortly after taking occupancy of our sanctuary, one of the members of our congregation needed to fulfill an Eagle Scout project, and he built an outdoor chapel in the woods on our property. It is a lovely outdoor chapel, reminiscent of a camp chapel in the North Georgia or North Carolina mountains. I have written here about the meaningful outdoor worship services we have there in Peace Chapel.
With the advent of this outdoor chapel, one of our members, Shirley Jones, not the famous actress of many years ago, proposed that we add an afternoon Christmas Eve outdoor service and bring in live animals to go along with the telling of the Luke 2 Christmas Story. And so began our Living Nativity Service held outside.
By the way, let me add here in honor of Shirley Jones, who has since gone to heaven, that she was also the person here in Fayette County to propose that all our churches get together and create a ministry much like “Clayton Samaritans” to provide a centralized point of help for those in need here in our county. So, “Fayette Samaritans” was launched and still exists for this purpose, doing an excellent job, thanks to faithful Christians from churches across our county.
Back to Living Nativity, we conducted this service outdoors for ten years or so, and then we were blessed to be able to build our Life Center. With this new facility available, I suggested we bring our Living Nativity Service indoors. Someone questioned the continued use of the live animals, and I said, “It’s probably a crazy idea, but let’s bring the animals inside as well.”
And that’s exactly what we do. And this service has grown to be our largest attended service of Christmas Eve.
Here’s what we do, and here’s what you’ll experience when you come. I hold the King James Version of the Bible and begin reading Luke Chapter 2. The beginning of that famous and well-known passage tells of Mary and Joseph going from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
At those words, Mary and Joseph, in Biblical clothing, begin walking into the worship space accompanied by a live donkey. There is no Biblical mention of a donkey as their transportation, but it certainly has gained traditional acceptance.
One thing to know about having a live donkey walk agreeably into a building and down an aisle is that they probably won’t walk agreeably. Most years we have “The Reluctant Donkey,” who must be pushed in the hind quarters by its handler so that it arrives to its designated spot in the “picture” of The Living Nativity Scene up front.
Mary and Joseph are played by a young couple with a live baby for Jesus resting in Mary’s arms. It makes a beautiful remembrance of that first Holy Night.
As I continue reading that the angel and then the “multitude of heavenly hosts” appear to the shepherds, our children come in dressed in their costumes of shepherds and angels, along with some older shepherds herding in a sheep or two and often a lamb. One year just as there was a beautiful moment of silence, a little lamb bleated its “Creature Praise for the King of Kings,” which the children sing as their song.
Finally, I turn to Matthew Chapter 2 and read the story of the Wise Men. As this story unfolds, three of our costumed young men bring the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And, yes! Accompanied by a live camel, completing the Living Nativity. And yes. Sometimes “The Reluctant Camel.”
We then sing “Away In A Manger” and “Silent Night” as we proceed to the Candlelight Ceremony, which, as I have said, is the culmination of a perfect celebration of the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Please join us Christmas Eve at 4:00, 8:00, or 11:00.
[Find Kollmeyer at www.princeofpeacefayette.org.]