If I can hold a candle and the church is nicely decorated and there's a choir and a band and so on, so much the better. The other night I walked down the road to church and on the way I asked you if you'd speak to me. If I could spend time with you - and feel your Presence there with me in the candlelight.
Oh, Lord, you answered that prayer.
The carols weren't just carols. They weren't the same over-familiar tunes and words that we trot out each year and know by heart because we dust them off each Christmas. For me, in row six, sitting next to a man who didn't sing a single word - not a single word! - it seemed fresh and new.
Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the new born King
Oh, Lord Jesus. It was as if those angels were singing with us. The glorious company of heaven was watching the miraculous events in a small middle eastern town way back when and they were proclaiming the wonder of it for the very first time
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies
The very angels of heaven were singing to say, 'He's there! He's come to you! Can you believe it?'
As we sang the weariness of the day full of Christmas preparations melted away and I realised that I found a little bit of that joy deep inside. It's not a fluffy, light as a feather happy sort of feeling; no, it's a deep, weighty, full-bodied overwhelming thing.
Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings
Light. Life. Healing. Don't we all need those things? How I need them; I am broken in so many places. And you are the balm to my hurts, the light in my darkness, the answer to my question.
As the candle flame in my hand flickered and people's faces were lit up and made beautiful with the soft light, the music soared and my soul reached for you.
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Born that we might live and not die. Born to lift us to heaven to be with you rather than strike us down and leave us where we deserve to be.
Oh, Father. What mystery is it that you came to earth and poured deity into a tiny wriggling body. How amazing that a young girl heard your voice and said 'Yes, let it be as you say', instead of 'You want me to do WHAT?'
How wonderful that a good man stood by his faithful young wife and raised a baby that wasn't his?
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
and His shelter was a stable
And His cradle was a stall
And the Saviour of the world had his birth day among animals and shepherds and other odd visitors? (Yes, I know, the wise men came some time later, but you know what I mean).
There isn't a palace in the world that man could make beautiful enough for you. There isn't a cathedral or a landscape or a crown of jewels that befits your majesty - but you chose a little known town in the back of beyond for your entry.
Why? Because you had a Plan.
God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
Yeah, let's stay merry, people! Let's not let anything dilute or diminish the amazing thing that happened. You came to rescue us. You loved us too much to leave us in the mess we'd created, were creating, and would go on to create (and it's quite a mess). You came to bring us home to be with you, because you loved us.
O, tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O, tidings of comfort and joy
If that's not good news, I don't know what is.
My God, it seemed amazing to me. Emmanuel - God with us.
God. With. Us. Sing about it.
Sing, choirs of angels
Sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above
Glory to God
In the highest
O come, let us adore Him
Christ, the Lord. A tiny baby.
Why exultation? Exulting? Lively, triumphant joy. Celebration of success, not just happiness. This is a triumph, and the angels could see how profound it was. Everything would be different, now. It was a game-changer. The earth was transformed that night and most people down here were completely oblivious to it, but the angels weren't.
It was a big deal.
Ding dong! merrily on high
In heaven the bells are ringing
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riven with angels singing
Hosanna in excelsis!
Riven! The sky was split across with the sound of the angels. Torn apart with the pealing of bells and heavenly host worshipping and celebrating. That must have been some sound.
Ye who sang creation's story
Now proclaim Messiah's birth
Come and worship
Christ the new-born King
We came and we worshipped. The choir sang in harmonies that must have pleased you. The band played music that lead us into your presence and the old songs meant something new.
We got to play a small part in the anniversary of that earth-shattering day in history.
E'en so here below, below...
Even so, here below. In my church, at Christmas 2013. Me. Even me.
Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place
And I closed my eyes (making sure that my candle was still vertical and not dripping wax on the floor or setting fire to anyone's hair or anything) and I remembered the way I saw you on your throne with the scenes of glory and majesty and power and gentleness and unending, dramatic love playing out in your heart and I lifted my small, substandard, stained one to you.
I think maybe even if we manage to see beyond the turkey and tinsel and gifts and Christmas telly sometimes we get too wrapped up in the tiny baby in a manger and no-crying-he-makes and all that. Even with the benefit of more than two thousand years we might miss the big picture - this baby was God. The Creator and sustainer of life, in a bed made of straw born to a normal girl who believed and her bemused husband.
Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Adored by the angels of heaven and adored by me.
The Word made flesh. God with us.
Oh, God, thank you for my glimpse past the familiar and into the realms of worship. Thank you that I heard an echo of the angels song and you let me add my poorly tuned but enthusiastic voice to the heavenly host.
Glorious now, behold him arise
King and God and sacrifice
Heaven sings, Alleluia!
Alleluia the earth replies
God with us.
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Amen and Alleluia.