It’s the day before the day before Christmas, otherwise known as December 23. It’s also a Friday, which is my “day off”, but really, how can a pastor relax the day before what must be the ecclesiastical equivalent to the Superbowl for us? I’ll spend today doing laundry (down to my last pair of underwear), tinkering with my sermon, getting as much rest as possible... And reflecting on the fact that no matter how stressful Christmas Eve is for me, it could be worse. I could be the Minister of Music.
Sometimes I delude myself into believing that people come to worship on Christmas Eve to hear my sermon. They don’t. I could have the best sermon I ever preached, or neglect to preach at all and I’m not sure if it would matter to most people. That’s not why they come. They come for the music.
The faithful who have been worshiping with us throughout the month of December, patiently enduring the Advent season while hopefully waiting for what comes next, have more than earned the right to cut loose with Christmas carols. After all, they’ve been hearing Christmas music at Walmart since before Halloween, so it’s high time they get to enjoy it at church. And for those who skip Advent, maybe don’t even know what Advent is, it’s the music that lures them into a pew on a frosty winter night to experience the mystery of the Incarnation once again.
I suspect a church musician could succumb to the stress of this night and call in sick if they had time to think about it. Instead, they push through, one stanza at a time, looking forward to crossing the finish line when they’ll be able to breathe again. I honestly don’t know how they do it; I stand in awe of them.
Joy is our Minister of Music at Ascension. (Really, that’s her name. How perfect is that?) On Christmas Eve she will be leading the children of the congregation in their Christmas musical at 4:00. They’ve been working on it for months. This is our best attended worship on Christmas Eve and you’ll need a shoe horn to get in. No pressure there. Then, for the next two worship services, at 8:00 and 10:30, she will be working with a brass quintet, timpanist, handbells and Senior Choir. How does she juggle all those groups on the same night? Of course, she’ll also be poised for action from the organ bench throughout, ready for every cue, prepared for variations with each hymn, leading the congregation through the liturgy, without even a moment to let her mind or her hands wander, from beginning to end.
I can hardly get my head around what that must be like and wouldn’t trade places with Joy for a bazillion bucks. Well, that’s not exactly true. The fact is, I couldn’t trade places with her because I could never do what she does. Few people could, and even fewer than that could do it as well.
I know that when most people worship on Christmas Eve they are unaware of all the work that was involved in making the sacred portion of their Christmas celebration possible: a janitor who cleaned before they arrived, the office staff who printed the bulletins, people who prepared the altar, decorators who tied the bows on the wreaths and decided just where to place the poinsettias, a choir that is rehearsed and ready to sing, ushers greeting them at the door… A team of faithful people, many of them invisible to people in the pews, comes together to make Christmas Eve worship happen.
Of all those who make our Christmas Eve worship possible, the ones who have put their heart and soul into the evening above all others are our church musicians. Try to imagine what your Christmas worship would be like without them, and be glad you won’t have to experience that. As you're recognizing those who share gifts with you this Christmas, don't forget to thank your church musician.