Engraved on the heart of God

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Sunrise service welcomes the Christ child into the world

Angelika Dawson, Special to Canadian Mennonite

With the moon still peeking over the mountains and the stars twinkling in the clear sky, more than 60 people gathered together in the wee hours of Christmas morning at the Epp family farm in Yarrow to celebrate Christmas with a sunrise service.

The service, entitled “While by my sheep,” was written by Heidi Epp, and included singing, monologues, Scripture reading and fireworks. Epp was very intentional about having the service outdoors and at sunrise.

“We think of the Christmas story as though it’s a Christmas card, but it wasn’t,” she said. “It was uncomfortable. Bethlehem was crowded. The stable was full of animals. It wasn’t convenient.”

Congregants sat on hay bales covered with wooden planks and kept warm by the bonfire as they listened to local actors share their perspectives on the Christmas story. Mary talked about God bringing “Emmanuel, God with us,” into the world to live “out loud,” calling people today to do that same. Joseph spoke from the perspective of a carpenter and being carved in the palm of God’s hand. The innkeeper shared how she helped Mary deliver Jesus, marvelling at Mary’s hospitality as she welcomed shepherds and wise men to draw near.

Each monologue was introduced with Scripture and the singing of carols, and when the angels enter the story, fireworks were set off into the sky. At the conclusion of the service, guests were invited to stay and visit, drink hot apple cider, and to carve their initials into the manger or stable as a symbol of being engraved on the heart of God.

For Epp, the service was a dream come true. As she thanked her family and all those who helped make the service happen, she said it was a gift to have so many people step into her dream and make it happen. The response from those who attended was so positive that she is already planning for next year.

“This will definitely be an annual event,” she said. “I’ve already had people asking!”

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Thanks, Angelika, for writing the article! For those interested, I am planning to publish the monologues in the near future for others to use in their own formats of worship for Christmas.

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