It was a dark and stormy night.
No, really--it was a very dark night made much darker by a small localized power outage so that our little country church sat nearly invisible next to a pitch-black parking area where parishioners, most of them elderly, would soon be arriving for the Christmas Eve service. How would we get everyone into the church without any broken hips? And how would we sing without lights to illuminate the hymnals?
In the beginning there were flashlights, many of them. You'd be surprised how many people carry tiny flashlights on their key-rings or larger ones in their cars. The flashlights helped everyone find their way to the sanctuary, which we lit up with as many candles as we could find (probably violating some kind of fire code). Everyone kept their coats on and huddled close together to share their warmth and light, which wasn't entirely necessary since everyone knows most of the common Christmas carols by heart.
A parishioner led the singing to spare the pastor's voice, which was barely there. He kept the message short--a brief reminder about the importance of sharing the light--and then closed with a prayer that was dramatically punctuated by a sudden violent swoosh of thunder and lightning, rain battering the windows and wind gusts blowing around anything that wasn't nailed down.
And then it was over. Those with flashlights guided the rest while a few of us blew out all the candles, one by one--except for the light we carried inside, a light that can't be extinguished by a dark and stormy night.