Keepers of the Light
Pastor Glen Jacobson sat on his padded chair near the pulpit and straightened his back. He realized he had been slumping and knew it wasn’t the proper posture for the song his congregation was now singing, Joy to the World. The refrain came and he tried to enthusiastically sing along but he was unable to utter more than a monotone drone. From the corner of his eye he scanned the half empty pews of the sparsely attended Christmas eve worship service and fell deeper into despair.
Where is everyone?, he wondered. Could they all be traveling? He knew the answer and sighed. He had grown accustomed to the dwindling numbers of parishioners at weekly services over the years but he could always count on a well-attended service for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The large numbers gave him hope that what he was doing mattered, and that hope carried him into another year of preaching and ministering to a congregation that he feared was becoming increasingly apathetic.
He held his hymnal before him and sang another verse.
Did they even hear the words of my message? Does anyone even care anymore?
He glanced out and saw mostly gray hair and wrinkles. Hmmm. Nothing but ripe fruit slowly dying on the vine. His lips moved and spit out the lyrics but his mind wandered from the page and to the many unsuccessful efforts he had made to attract more members, particularly young people, young families.
Why have they given up on the church? If we can’t reach them, what hope do we have? The thought saddened him and he felt a deep ache in his soul.
As the congregation sang the last verse he decided he would quit the ministry. He had been wrestling with the decision for the past year and now resolved to do it. He would get through the holiday services and make his announcement the first Sunday in January. Buoyed by the thought of it, he managed a faint smile at the end of the hymn. He stood, walked to the altar and led the meager crowd through the remainder of the liturgy and prayers.
“And now, as is our tradition, we will close with Silent Night,” he said. “The ushers will bring a candle to each pew. Please tilt your candle to receive the flame and then pass it on to the person next to you.”
He gently pulled a lit candle from its holder and walked to the front of the altar, where two elderly men in dark blue suits lit their candles from it. The lights dimmed as the men made their way to the first pew, and the pastor returned his candle to the altar and went back to his seat. The organist held a long note and then gently fingered the keys. The people joined in, singing softly, reverently.
Knowing that no one could see him, Jacobson closed his eyes and simply listened as the congregation serenaded him with the words of his favorite hymn. When the end of the first verse came he felt calmness wash over him.
Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.
With the second verse the voices grew louder as they proclaimed the events of a miraculous night more than two thousand years ago.
Christ the Savior is born. Christ the Savior is born.
Jacobson listened to the opening line of the final verse and then cracked open his eyes when the parishioners sang, Son of God loves pure light.
In the darkness all he could see were glowing flames flickering throughout the sanctuary. Some were clustered together, others appeared to be standing on their own. Each was held high so he couldn’t see the holder’s faces. To him, they looked like shining beacons of hope in a dark world.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace
Jacobson gasped. A lump formed in his throat and his eyes filled with small glistening tears. Suddenly, a Scripture fluttered into his mind: “There is a remnant chosen by grace.”
Jesus Lord at thy birth
Jesus Lord at thy birth
As the congregation extinguished their candles a baby’s cry echoed from the rear of the sanctuary, and Jacobson chuckled at the sound of it.