Even unbelievers can appreciate the pageantry of the Christmas season, but only the redeemed can truly relish in the joy of the Savior’s birth. Today, R.C. Sproul tells the story of the first Christmas he experienced after his conversion.
I remember as a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh and always dreaming of a white Christmas. It was a tradition in our home to go to the Christmas Eve service every year. That service began at eleven o’clock, but we would have to assemble outside of the church at about quarter after ten because so many people congregated for that special candlelight event. It was filled with pageantry and great choral music. And at about thirteen minutes to twelve, the minister would begin his Christmas Eve homily. And just as the clock reached twelve o’clock, in the middle of his sermon, there was a signal given to the organist, and the organist would play the chimes in the church as if they were the chimes of a clock striking twelve. The pastor would stop his sermon in mid-sentence as the chimes would begin to sound one, two, three, four, and we would all sit there in the pews and count them. As soon as the twelfth tone had registered, the pastor would smile to the congregation and he would say, “It’s Christmas. And may I be the first on this day to wish you a Merry Christmas?
Well, that used to send chills up and down my spine. It was a tradition. He did it every year. In fact, he preached the same sermon every year on Christmas Eve and the candlelight service. As I grew up, I never wanted to miss a service, and particularly on those Christmas Eves when it had snowed and the lawn was covered in the new fallen snow. There was just something about it. I loved it. But I was not a believer. To me, this was all exciting pageantry where the real fun came the next morning when we got to open the presents and enjoy the visitation of the man from the North Pole.
Then in 1957, in September of that year, I had my conversion to Christianity. And like any new Christian or young Christian, I was absolutely absorbed with the discovery of Christ. It was utter sweetness to me, and I had great delight in reading the Scriptures and talking to people about the things of God. Well, that happened in September. By October, I was still walking on air. In November I was still sky-high, but I was already experiencing the ups and downs that new Christians tend to have. But I remember my first Christmas as a Christian—coming back home for the holidays, driving through the snow to the church, going into the sanctuary, singing the same hymns that I had sung for so many years, hearing exactly the same sermon, hearing the chimes strike midnight. And this time when the minister interrupted his sermon and listened to the chimes and then leaned over the pulpit and said, “It’s Christmas,” I was ready to walk through the door into heaven. It was all the joy that I could handle because now for the first time I was experiencing this pageantry as reality, as truth, as something that had really taken place.