When I first came to this church over ten years ago, our 5:00 Christmas eve service was the most crowded of all of our Christmas services.
This was the worship service where all of the children's choirs sang.
Those first few years we had over 500 people at that service. It was packed.
But then the children's choir director found that she couldn't get very many of the children to sing on Christmas eve. A significant number of them were spending Christmas eve out of town. So we had to figure out what else to do to make the early service special and different than the late, candlelight service.
I came up with the idea of making the early service into a "Family Service," with music, readings and and worship assistants provided by families. The first couple of years we had a "Family Choir", with parents and children of all ages. This year a few children will offer different prelude music. (Aside: at my first church, on the "children's Christmas program Sunday", every child who was taking music lessons of any kind was given the opportunity to play for part of the prelude. It was a mini-recital all skill levels and ages represented.) Also, the senior pastor offered the old tradition of "The Strawing of the Manger." The youngest children are invited up to prepare the manger for the Christ child. We also have a young family dress up as the Holy Family and be a part of the processional.
My favorite part of the service, though, is when six elementary school children read six verses from the prophets about the coming of the messiah. I love this part, but it is very stressful trying to find enough children who are good readers, want to do it, and will come to the service. It is harder than one might think. And of course, at the same time, I am really trying to see all of my shut ins and write a lot of sermons (this year I'm preaching this Sunday, Christmas eve and Christmas Day).
But here's why I do it:
Long ago, at the 4:00 Christmas eve service in my home church, I got the chance to read when the Pastor's daughter got sick at the last minute.
It was my big chance. I had never felt important in the church before. No one had asked me, a child, to do anything.
I got to read part of the Christmas story.
So, I still want to give other children a chance to feel important, too.
Because they are.