It is finally upon us…the most wonderful time of the year! Yes indeed my friends…it’s time for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service!
For those of us in ministry (clergy or laity), we know that every Christmas Eve, church trustees, building committees and facilities teams lift up heartfelt prayers to the Almighty (or Sweet Baby Jesus, if you prefer the Christmas Jesus) that they will be spared from that which is most dreaded…candle wax dripping on the pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc.
I’ve witnessed some form of the what I refer to as “the Christmas Eve candle wax worry” at every church I have served. Trust me, a great deal of time has been spent in church meetings all around the world discussing candle wax related issues. “Should we continue to use those little paper rings? They hardly create a barrier and last year three adults caught their paper on fire! Maybe we should invest in those fancy plastic guards that look like a cup you would find at a Ball State tailgate party? Have we ever considered using battery operated candles, at least for the children? Maybe we should just ask people to download the lighter app on their phones and pretend they are at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert?”
Trust me, I’ve heard about every angle in the great “Christmas Eve candle wax worry” debate. The debate intensifies when the church has recently purchased new pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc. (as was the case in 2 churches I served…and “new” is generally used relatively loosely in the church…if it happened in the last 15 years, it’s probably considered new).
Listen, I get it…candles can be messy. Candles can be dangerous. Candles are like little fires!!!
Yet, for me, there is something beautiful, dare I say holy about those pesky little candles.
So, what some trustees dread, I see as a tremendous blessing…
Candle wax on the pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc just might indicate that your congregation has been blessed with folks in attendance who don’t know how to play by the “Silent Night” candle lighting rules! Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
Now, I know the tendency to judge those who only show up at Christmas (and maybe Easter). But, shouldn’t we be thrilled that we at least have the opportunity to share hope, love, joy, peace, grace, mercy, and the good news of great joy with them at least once a year?
If people haven’t grown up in the church, they might not be familiar with church candle lighting etiquette. Some in attendance may be under the assumption that the point is simply to get the candles lit as quickly as possible, by any means necessary.
With this in mind, churches often go to great lengths, offering proper candle lighting demonstrations, in order make sure all know how to properly light a candle.
However, we need to consider that some of the new folks might just be so nervous…or so focused on whether or not their child is behaving…or worried about knowing how to find the restroom…or so concerned that they might do or say something wrong…or whatever that they totally miss the demonstration/instructions/fail to read the bulletin/or just freeze in the moment and “get it wrong”!
Of course, it won’t take long for them to learn that they have breached church candle lighting etiquette.
After noticing the disapproving stare from the front row of the choir and the gossipy chatter from the back of the sanctuary (“did you see how he angled his lit candle?”), one would realize he/she had deviated from previously agreed upon procedures.
And, let’s be honest…that one little moment…that moment when the candle is lit…has within it great potential.
If the person is made to feel bad for a little wax dripping, if the person receives a disapproving look or hears the grumbling, that might just be the last time we have the opportunity to share to good news of great joy with them.
However, if they receive an “it’s okay” or a polite smile or that all-knowing “I’ve been in your shoes”, or realizes that people aren’t really paying attention to them, but caught up in this holy moment themselves, it might make them relax and enjoy the overwhelming beauty of the moment.
Pastors are put in a tough spot…do we give step by step instructions on appropriate candle lighting procedures? Or do we assume folks can figure it out? Either way, wax is going to end up on the pews/chairs/carpets/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc.
For me, the question is whether we allow people to experience a holy moment or unintentionally communicate that pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc are more important than people? If we go overboard, we run the risk of filling a beautiful, holy moment with rules and regulations and the beauty is lost in the business of church. Hmm…I wonder if the Pharisee’s had any candle lighting rules and regulations? Ouch!
I’m sure there is a healthy balance somewhere. Either way, the pastor is going to hear about some time between the end of the Christmas Eve service and the first of the year. And, by the way, it will most likely be her/his fault!
So, for my readers who are considering attending a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and desire a heads up, here are some pointers:
– the lit candle always stays vertical (in other words, keep the flame pointed to the sky)
– to light the unlit candle, tilt the unlit candle wick into the lit candle flame
– as soon as your candle is lit, straighten the candle to vertical (seriously, don’t waste any time in this step)
– avoid yawning, heavy breathing or singing too loudly, as this may result in wax splatter and judgmental gazes
– don’t mess with the little paper rings that are supposed to protect your hand and the pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc from wax drippings. Trust me, it will only make things worse and potentially start a small fire! Yes, I know it will burn, but you’ll probably only sing 4 verses of “Silent Night” and a potential repeat of the first verse (unless you go to a contemporary church where you run the risk of the band leader adding in a few “new” and “more relevant” verses) and a long prayer from the pastor in which he/she attempts to sum up the entirety of the Gospel! Most churches have first aid kits…maybe…so, seriously, it will be okay!
For my readers who tend to worry about pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc, here are a couple of things to remember:
– wax on pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc is something to celebrate. It just might indicate that more than “just the regulars” joined you for this very special night!
– while candle wax is annoying, it can be removed…yes, I know it’s annoying and time consuming…but it probably won’t impact the structural integrity of the building or aesthetic appeal of the pews/chairs/carpet/hymnals/coffee mugs/etc…maybe the wax cleaning crew could offer up prayers of thanksgiving for the folks who came and dripped candle wax while ironing out the wax???
– Relax! It’s just a little wax. And, I’ve noticed that those who tend to get the most worked up aren’t the ones who end up cleaning it up anyway!
In all seriousness, wherever you find yourself this holiday season (OMG, he’s a pastor and just called it the “holiday season”, plus I thought he just wrote “in all seriousness”) I hope and pray that you will experience something beautiful and holy!