Christmas is a magical time of year. This year is especially dear to me as I have finally completed seminary, my parents have moved close to us this past month, and a spiritual son is visiting from far away for the holidays. Our family, along with many others, will gather to celebrate from far and near. It is a time in the cold winter season to celebrate the light and warmth of our family and friends. It will be a special time to gather and find hope in the darkest and coldest of hours as we look to the year and season ahead!
As Christians, the bright flame at the center of that hope is Jesus. His arrival on earth two millennia ago was heralded by angels and celebrated by shepherds and Wisemen. The Gospels record this amazing announcement of “good tidings of great joy” (Lk 2:10). This was a joyous chorus praising God and announcing His peace and goodness to all people (Lk 2:14)!
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus was life and light shining in the darkness (Jn 1:4-5, 9) for all of humanity! In the darkness of history, of a world separated from God by an unfathomable gulf, the most brilliant light burned bright. This season, as we gather in the darkness of winter, we have the chance to share and spread the light of Jesus.
The Real Meaning of Christmas
As a child, we would gather on Christmas Eve after going to a candlelight service at church and read the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke, chapter 2. Now, we read this story every Christmas morning before we open presents to remind us of the greatest gift that was ever given—to focus our hearts on Jesus. My parents, and now my wife and I, want to make sure our family has hearts and minds shaped by what Christmas is truly about.
Don’t get me wrong, we thoroughly enjoy celebrating and opening presents! We have a great time with Christmas cookies, songs, crackling fires, and celebrations. But our greatest joy comes from giving and realizing that, in our own small way, we can reflect God’s goodness to others as our small gifts bring a small measure of the great goodness God gave with His great gift to the world!
This year I know that many will be struggling to celebrate. The shadows seem dark and the halls quiet. Families are separated, and many more may be spending the season alone or even isolated from a broader community as they stay at home. However, we can still fix our minds on the gift that came—the Light of the World. Jesus can be placed at the center of all we do as we focus and celebrate Him no matter our circumstances. This year, even as we quarantine and services are restricted or canceled, we can still celebrate and maybe even create a new candlelight tradition in our own homes.
I put together a little celebration you can do right in your own home. Use this to build memories as you celebrate the light that came into the world for all of us. Create your own little candlelight Christmas tradition in the middle of the darkness and learn to blaze the brightest as you reflect our Savior, Jesus, to the world!
Making the Story Come Alive
Have the whole family gather all the candles you have in the house. Parents can help their children discover the hidden places where candles could be found, though you might need to do some creative shopping and hiding in preparation.
Then help each other choose candles that best represent the characters in the nativity. You could choose pink and blue for Mary and Joseph. Maybe tall white candles (with glitter!) could represent the angels with green or brown being the shepherds to whom they appear. The Wisemen could be a royal purple with the animals in various shapes and sizes as other colors. Lastly, choose the smallest candle (possibly a tea light) to represent the baby Jesus.
Once everyone is seated and the candles are laid out, turn the lights down low and begin to read the story of Jesus’ birth. You can read from the bible passages and make your own story come alive (Is 9:6-7, Lk 2:1-21, and Matt 2:1-12), or you can use the script found at the bottom of this article. As each bible character is introduced, arrange the candle representing their character.
During the reading of the story, stop and sing hymns to praise God just as the angels did as they announced these glad tidings. In the script below, there are suggestions for where to stop and sing, and even songs you could use. Feel free to choose your own songs or music to celebrate.
As you listen with faces aglow in the candlelight, reflect on the story as it comes alive in the light before you. Celebrate the joy and wonder of Jesus’ birth with the angels and shepherds! Sing with them as you realize the significance of what they were announcing and celebrating—the hope of all creation came to earth as a little baby. Consider the long journey of the Wisemen to find this great treasure. Share with your children the wonder and awe of this awesome event as you relive it together in the stories told around the growing number of glowing flames.
As the story closes, describe how the Wisemen returned home and blow out their candles. Explain how the shepherds returned to their flocks and the angels went back to heaven and blow out their candles one by one. Even Mary and Joseph eventually came to the end of their earthly lives, and their light went out.
With all the other candles extinguished, only the light of Jesus continues to shine. The Light that began in Bethlehem as a baby was life and light for the world. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus shares his Light with all humanity. Remember, that although this world may often seem dark, and although our lives will be extinguished like the candles someday, the light of Jesus continues to burn strong and steady forevermore. The darkness will never consume that light. The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never, nor will ever, put it out.
All of this began on a dark, silent, and holy night a long time ago, and that light will burn within us as we continue to remember Jesus is the reason for it all.
Tips to Help You Prepare
If you don’t have a lot of candles, take your children shopping to pick out inexpensive candles representing the Nativity. Be sure you have sturdy candleholders and a lighter.
Be careful with fire around young children. With very small children, you may want to display the candles where they can’t be reached while you share the story.
You can find the lyrics to most Christmas songs by searching online. Psalm 100 says to make a joyful noise to the Lord, so don’t worry if you are not musically inclined, you are celebrating for God’s glory and not your own.
Get everyone involved. Take turns reading, lighting and extinguishing candles, or leading songs. This is something for the whole family to do together, so do it together!
Print the script below or write out your own script that you can use year after year. Be intentional to make this a tradition and write it down for use every year!
Christmas Candlelight at Home (Script)
(Isaiah 9:6-7, NIV) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Sing “O Holy Night”
(Luke 2:1-7, NIV) 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. (Light the Joseph candle) He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (Light the Mary candle ) 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. (Light the Jesus candle)
Sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and/or “Away in a Manger”
(Luke 2:8-14, NIV) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Light the shepherd candles) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (Light the tallest angel candle) 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.” And suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Light the rest of the angel candles)
Sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
(Luke 2:15b-19, NIV) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
(Matthew 2:1-2 and 2:9-11, NIV) After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Light the Wisemen candles.) After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Sing “What Child is This?”
(Matthew 2:12) And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Extinguish the Wisemen candles)
(Luke 2:20) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Extinguish the shepherd candles)
(Luke 2:15a) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven (Extinguish the angel candles)
And many years later, Mary and Joseph, being flesh and bone, came to the end of their lives on earth. (Extinguish the Mary and Joseph candles)
But the Light that began in Bethlehem was life. And this life, Jesus Christ, was the Light of all humanity. The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.
And it all began on a dark, silent, and holy night long ago…
Sing “Silent Night”