Yesterday as Sacrament meeting (as LDS weekly congregational worship services are called) was about to start, there was some rushing around going on as the choir prepared to perform its annual Christmas program. The choir director approached me and asked if I would read a story called No Room at the Inn over the pulpit between two of the musical numbers.
This is one of those incredibly sentimental stories that is sure to elicit choked sobs from the congregation. It is also just that — a story. Snopes classes stories somewhat similar to this one as pure legend. But the script I was asked to read did not try to present it as a factual event. And it has been common practice, even from early times, to use fictional stories to demonstrate gospel principles.
The request caught me somewhat off guard. Of course, I had heard the story many times before, but I had never had to read it to an audience. I quickly reviewed the story during the first few minutes of the meeting. I wanted to be prepared.
When I read out loud, I like to do it with feeling, emphasis, appropriate pacing, and even drama. When I read to my kids, I like to make the stories fun and interesting. I use different tones of voice and/or accent for different characters. I even like to do this when I read scriptures aloud. If I have to read aloud, I find no reason to read in a dry monotone. I might as well make it interesting. It also helps me gain insights as I employ dramatic reading.
But my main point of reviewing the story was to make sure I knew exactly where the sentimental grab point was. To successfully read something like this, you’ve got to steel yourself and know where to put up an emotional barrier so you don’t choke up yourself. But you can’t make the emotional wall too sturdy, or else the words you read will come across as stiff and impersonal. It has to be done just right.
I prayed for strength. The story went quite well. I felt good about my dramatic emphasis. I approached the sentimental grab point and tried to erect the appropriate balance of emotional protection. As I read the part where the slow but pure boy insists that Joseph and Mary take his own room, I felt my throat start to tighten, but then I caught myself and finished the story just fine. It had the desired impact on the congregation. I was relieved that my reading part was over.
But that wasn’t even the highlight of the program. My five-year-old daughter was asked to sing a solo of a Primary song called Picture a Christmas. My little girl has received no voice training, and definitely does not have perfect pitch, but she loves to sing. She walks around the house singing sweet songs over and over again (much to her brothers’ chagrin). What she lacks in training, she makes up for in purity. She did a lot better in practice than she did during the performance (there are a lot of people in the congregation), but she sang with such innocent purity that it just melted everyone’s hearts.
The final number our choir sang was called Peace, Peace. I had never heard this number before we started practicing it. The final portion of the song has the congregation sing Silent Night with the choir harmonizing with Peace, Peace. We had practiced many times, but I had never heard it with the Silent Night portion until we performed. The moment the congregation joined in was extraordinary. I was very nearly overcome to the point that I could not sing. It was marvelous.
For me, Christmas is a wondrous time of the year. We have a lot of fun with it, but we don’t go crazy with decorating and gift buying. My seven-year-old is just about dying right now, anticipating tomorrow morning. We have already done many special events with family and friends, and we have more yet to come.
Here’s wishing you and yours all the best this holiday season.