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Christmas Eve Means Ice Cream Sundaes for Dinner

Christmas Eve Means Ice Cream Sundaes for Dinner

Rich Kirkpatrick
  • Many readers are involved in multiple Christmas services as leaders, musicians, or tech volunteers. Here is a story about keeping what matters in front of you. Moments matter.

When you are in charge of church music, the holidays occupy your winter schedule. Working until late night on Christmas Eve exacts a toll on the family as you disappoint them by your lack of presence. You get used to telling your extended family that you regret not being present for gatherings. But I had a mentor once tell me that ministry is a family business, so I attempted to follow suit. My wife would sing in the choir, my daughter would as she grew older. But my son didn’t like singing, so he found his way to the tech booth—to nap. On one occasion, he found an access panel that opened under the audio console and we lost track of him. There were times he would sleep in the choir room as we constructed set designs until the late hours of the evening. His Gameboy became a friend, or the occasional kid that was as stuck as he was at church.

After a grueling schedule of rehearsals, Christmas services, and all the harried attempts to fit a normal family life, I was exhausted. My whole family was exhausted, too. Christmas Eve was a marathon, and the guilt of missed moments would finally sink in as the muscles ached from loading rented lighting gear in-and-out of the church building. So by the time we were all together we were very hungry and would go to a 24-hour café. Likely, this was the best food available after a month of fast food, so we all ordered large portions. And, my son, who was about eight years old at the time, was finally set to receive his reward.

“Son, you’ve been such a trooper and as promised, you can order whatever you want for dinner.”

“Whatever?”

“Yes.”

Soon an ice cream sundae was on its way, along with a milkshake. He already had access to bottomless French fries, so it made for quite a meal.

I probably remember this differently than my son does. That ice cream was a religious tradition, in my mind. We were at a table and celebrating the rest we found in each other’s presence. Granted, I still had a racing mind, worried about how I’d get all the rented gear into a rather small sedan to return the next week. But it was almost Christmas. We were nearly at midnight by the time of that ice cream—or at least it felt like that with hoarse voices and droopy eyelids. That extravagant meal was important. It capped off a busy season. Together, we made it!

Ice cream for dinner wouldn’t happen every Christmas Eve. The restaurant we loved eventually closed its doors. We would move on to a new church ministry and new city. An eight-year-old boy would become a teenager, then a young adult. My role and job still kept me busy over Christmas for the following years, but eventually we made it to more extended-family Christmas gatherings. This was a good thing because several loved ones would pass away. Loss is part of growth and part of life as things begin and things end. I miss the ice cream for dinner and the choir practices that went on for hours. Hanging lights both for stages and for trees was but for a season. The hugs, words, and faces of family no longer with me leave holes. There’s a lot to miss. But, there’s a lot worth missing still in front of me.

The dark winter sets us up for Christmas. We may feel low, hearing the notes of the Christmas carols, yet not feeling the song. Loss leaves us wounded like that. But it doesn’t mean we’re finished. Still, there is more life ahead of us to live. It doesn’t invade us, however. Like the baby Jesus, hope starts in small vulnerable places—the areas in our hearts that we’d rather leave be. We find hope in silent nights. Bombastic, saccharin, secular anthems attempt to keep that dark space hidden. We are told to find a way to feel good. Fake it till you make it. But, some of us see behind this attempt to hype. Sometimes some of those Christmas shows and services I led might have done this, too.

Then, I go back to the vision of an eight-year-old boy grinning as the server arrives with ice cream covered in hot fudge and towering whipped cream. We sit at a small table, with our family of four enjoying our little boy’s moment. There is so much ahead of us. It doesn’t look big and powerful and able to rescue us from the darkness we might feel. The fantasy of rapture and escape cheapens Christmas. Hope takes more than one dessert, one moment, right? No. It’s a baby in a manger with his small family that shows us the way. From the infant Jesus “radiant beams” from his face give us hope. In the darkness of midnight at a café table, a bit of light shows me what really matters.

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What really matters, anyway? The stories and lives of my choir and crew included miscarriages, divorce, cancer, trauma, and depression. Whether singing, programming lights, arranging music, or dressing up as shepherds, the weight of darkness could be lifted for a moment. Christ brought on one cool evening a “dawn of redeeming grace.” Moments matter. When you see grown men wipe a tear, children cover their mouths in awe, and seniors smile, you know that all the work was worth it. Why? Because people are worth it. So Christmas moments that shine the light of Christ matter. Those of us who direct worship or music should know this. But, sometimes it takes a mound of ice cream to remind me of it. What does it take for you?

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

—Joseph Mohr

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