This week, we attended two Christmas Eve worship services -- the first being a Christmas pageant with live animals.
The second being the midnight candlelight service, though this time, with no appearance by the barnyard animals. It was a serene affair bathed by the royal purple light on the center cross and by candlelight lining the sanctuary.
Some parts of this midnight service were the same as the earlier "Christmas Story Pageant", but this was a much more intimate service which gave a feel of a small group experience with God. There were far fewer people in attendance and it was without the sets and players. If the earlier pageant was a TV show, then this service was an old time radio play. When the soloists sang, especially the tenor Matthew Riser's rendition of "Oh Holy Night", the sanctuary was silent save his soaring voice. Starla and I joked afterwards that we can be his groupies and send him fan mail. Even now, several days later, I can still hear his song in my head.
It's not that one service was better than another, but they were definitely different experiences. The pageant had a joyful, festive atmosphere, accented by the procession of the animals, which I think was the part of the service that everyone was looking forward to. The play also brought new nuances to the Christmas story, and along with it, new understandings of what those people might have experienced during the first Christmas.