The final notes of the prelude fade into silence. The lights, already dim, are darkened. The whole sanctuary is suspended for a moment in quiet anticipation. Then from the choir loft come the soft organ notes of introduction, and a solo voice sings out the familiar words, “Stille nacht! Heilige nacht!” The Christmas Vigil service at Lititz Moravian has begun, as it has for nearly one hundred years, with the beloved Austrian carol evoking the stillness and holiness of the night of Christ’s birth.
By the conclusion of the third verse, light from the great 110-point Moravian star fills the church. Then as the congregation rises to join in the first hymn, “All Glory to Immanuel’s Name,” the Junior Choir processes in and takes their places on the white wooden benches in the pulpit recess. One of the pastors offers prayer and reads the familiar story from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Ushers appear to collect the offering benefitting Moravian Open Door in New York City as the orchestra plays.
“The Children’s Te Deum” provides the transition into the Lovefeast. Dieners serve coffee, chocolate milk, and lovefeast buns as all sing hymns recounting the Christmas story. While the congregation enjoys their simple meal, the Senior Choir presents J.A.P. Schultz’s “Thou Child Divine” and the Benedictus from Haydn’s “Harmoniemesse.” After the mugs and napkins have been collected and a pastor has given a brief meditation, child soloists, choirs, and congregation join in the beloved “Morning Star, O Cheering Sight.”
Then once again the sanctuary is darkened. As the Senior Choir begins “Mache dich auf, werde Licht!” the door from the hallway is thrown open and the dieners enter, this time carrying trays of blazing beeswax candles, which they distribute to the congregation as the music continues. Two final hymns remain to be sung. “Behold a great, a heavenly light” expresses the warmth and glow of the candle-lit sanctuary. Then, filled with joy, congregation and choirs stand, candles held high, to conclude with “Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord!”
As the congregation exits into the cold air, they can hear the Trombone Choir playing carols from the porch of the Archives Museum. The peace and love of God fill Church Square. “Weep not; fear not; Jesus is here!”
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1
Written by Marian Shatto