I don't know about your childhood Christmas Eves, but from kindergarten to eighth grade, all the kids at my parochial grade school would stand in front of our families and the congregation to sing and recite a Christmas program.
You know the types of programs I'm talking about. Where the middle-school aged boys refuse to sing because their voices are changing. Where the little ones wave at their parents or tug at their clip-on ties or swing the skirts of their pretty dresses while singing "Away in the Manger". Where the 5th graders are finally feeling like the bigger kids because they've done this a many times now, and they get bigger speaking parts.
My favorite part was always the 2nd graders' recitation of Luke chapter 2 (especially when they emphasize the word "terrified" and all their little faces look astonished). Perhaps you've heard it or had to recite it yourself at one point?
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
That's Luke 2:1-14. It goes on from there with the Shepherds taking off to go see the new baby, Jesus.
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
I don't know why, but this passage is always my favorite part. Maybe because of the kids who recite it with such conviction? Maybe it's because it took me forever to learn how to say Quirinius? Maybe because it's the story of how all God's promises were finally coming together for all the world to see?
I think it's a combination of all of that.
As everyone gets closer to the hustle and bustle of Christmas, please remember to stop and take a moment to visit Luke 2. I think you're spirits will be rejuvenated with the reminder of what this season is truly about.