When I drove to Disneyland yesterday to spend the day with my sister and her family from Oregon, my only thoughts were anticipation at spending time with them. I had no idea I would have a moving worship experience in Disneyland’s Town Square that evening.
As the day progressed and darkness fell, we were a bit cranky and tired from the walking and the crowds and the lack of a good hot meal. To top it off, my niece lost her bag containing her wallet and phone. Tempers were short and tears were shed.
This is why I rarely go to theme parks.
We gathered our bearings on a bench near It’s a Small World, eating beef jerky and peanut M&Ms, idly watching the Disneyland staff cordon off a walkway where a child had vomited. They handled it was utmost seriousness, as if it were a major biohazard. Impressive, really.
The schedule for the day listed the annual Disneyland Candlelight Ceremony, a performance recounting the story of the first Christmas with scripture and song, complete with a celebrity narrator, full orchestra, and choir. Interesting. We made our way to the standing-room-only area in Town Square fairly close to the Christmas tree.
The 600-member choir processed down Main Street wearing gold robes and carrying electric candles, singing Christmas carols. As each one passed by, we could hear their individual voices loud and strong.
An “oh!” went up from the crowd when the celebrity narrator for the evening was introduced. Molly Ringwald. I smiled. I loved her performances in the John Hughes movies of the 80s. From where we stood, the only feature I could make out was her red hair.
What followed was nothing short of reverent and worshipful. Ringwald read from the Bible about the birth of Jesus Christ. The choir and orchestra followed with a supporting Christmas hymn. Angels We Have Heard on High. O Holy Night. Joy to the World, portions of Handel’s Messiah.
My sister and I kept looking at each other at amazement. Unapologetic, unfiltered storytelling of the birth of our Savior? This was happening at Disneyland? Wow.
When the conductor invited the audience to join the choir in singing Silent Night, my sister, niece and I clung to each other and sang.
I looked up at the cloudy night sky and the star atop the 60-foot Christmas tree. On the opposite side of the square, an illuminated American flag waved in the breeze. Here in downtown Disneyland, surrounded by strangers, with one voice we announced that “Christ the Savior is born.”
Despite the current climate of political correctness and the oh-so-careful acknowledgement of the winter holiday traditions of all people, the Candlelight Ceremony was evidence that, at least during Christmastime, Jesus Christ is still publicly remembered, honored, and adored here in America.
Molly Ringwald concluded the ceremony with a powerful reading of One Solitary Life by Dr. James Allen Francis, 1926.
One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village,
The child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in still another village,
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty.
Then for three years
He was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a house.
He didn’t go to college.
He never visited a big city.
He never traveled two hundred miles
From the place where he was born.
He did none of the things
One usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was only thirty-three
When the tide of public opinion turned against him.
His friends ran away.
He was turned over to his enemies.
And went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross
Between two thieves.
While he was dying,
His executioners gambled for his clothing,
The only property he had on Earth.
When he was dead,
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend.
Twenty centuries have come and gone,
And today he is the central figure
Of the human race,
And the leader of mankind’s progress.
All the armies that ever marched,
All the navies that ever sailed,
All the parliament that ever sat,
All the kings that ever reigned,
Put together have not affected
The life of man on Earth
As much as that
One solitary life.
~Dr James Allen Francis, 1926