I attended a worship service at Disneyland last night. I’m not even exaggerating. My wife and I held our girls as we stood packed in tight amongst thousands of strangers in Town Square. Suddenly, a church organ began to play and a processional of choir singers, dressed in traditional choir robes and each holding a single candle, slowly walked down main street singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
This choir turned out to be 500 strong and accompanied by an orchestra. For 45 minutes, they sang Christmas hymns. None of the silly carols like “Jingle Bells,” but actual theologically rich, Jesus-proclaiming hymns. In between each song, Dick Van Dyke stood behind a pulpit and read the Christmas story directly from the Bible.
This presumably secular crowd stood in absolute silence, holding their children and rarely batting an eye, as the arrival of King Jesus was preached from the Scriptures and a choir consisting of hundreds of beautiful voices urged them to recognize Christ as King and submit to his eternal reign.
I was moved. We all seemed to be. My 3 year old looked up at me and said, “They’re singing about Jesus, Daddy.” The things I care about most were being boldly proclaimed in a very non-churchy setting. It was quite an experience.
As I’ve thought about what happened last night, I’ve come to two conclusions.
First, I’m sure that everyone who experienced this ceremony (Disney simply calls it, “Candlelight”) enjoyed it. I’m sure they felt the power in it. I doubt that many walked away wishing they had spent that 45 minutes in line for Space Mountain.
But how many of them turned to the truth last night? The gospel was clearly presented in a powerful way. They listened, spellbound. And then the moment ended and they returned to their rides and shops.
I am reminded of our need for the power of the Spirit to change our hearts. I am tempted sometimes to think that if we could just have a cool enough gospel presentation—clear, compelling, moving—then people would see the truth and respond. But I know it’s not true. I know it’s not about putting on the right kind of show. Disney puts on a better show than anyone, and they happened upon a very reverent, biblical sort of show. But that’s never been enough to change hearts.
We have a message to share with the world, and we would be disobeying God if we decided not to proclaim the gospel because we’re convinced that no one will respond. But we always need to recognize our dependence on the Spirit. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63).
My second realization is that our Christmas traditions are full of powerful truths. We tend to sing these songs as “carols,” and we move quickly from “O Come O Come Emmanuel” to “Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer.” But these songs are worshipful and deep. Listen closely next time. Your appreciation for Jesus is bound to be stirred. It’s not uncommon for the most profound truths to sit just beneath our noses, patiently waiting for us to notice them. I have found that this is especially true during the Christmas season.
So here’s to unexpected worship experiences. I suppose that if we keep our eyes open, we will find these far more often than we might expect. We may be in the most ordinary or secular of places amongst the most ordinary or secular of people and find ourselves reminded of God’s truth and experiencing his presence. Last night was difficult to miss, but I’m going to keep my eyes open for more of these opportunities.