Like prayers, balloons set sail toward heaven

In December, Christians honor and celebrate the birthday of the season and focus of their faith, and their churches express Christmas joy in different ways. Some have traditional services, while others try something new.

Most congregations sing the traditional carols and read the Scriptures that tell of the first Christmas. Some display living Nativity scenes including live animals, while others produce plays dramatizing the Christmas story. Nearly all churches decorate with the greenery and symbols of the season. This year our church

had balloons.

I’m not sure who came up with the plan, but I think it was a great idea. White, helium-filled balloons anchored with fishing line would float in the sanctuary. Sparkling cardboard stars, doves and other appropriate symbols would be fixed at regular intervals along the nearly invisible dangling string giving them the appearance of hovering freely in the space above our heads. It would be a beautiful and tasteful Christmas display.

On the Sunday before Christmas people entered through the sanctuary doors, and their eyes were lifted upward as they noticed the balloons and floating symbols. Those of us in the choir behind the altar looked out and could tell by the expressions on the faces of the congregation in the pews that the decorations were having the desired effect.

The sermon was a message of hope and anticipation for the coming birth. Both the choir and the congregation offered up musical praise and thanksgiving. Throughout the service our prayers were lifted up to heaven.

Wednesday was Christmas Eve, which meant a Christmas Eve service. Becky and I are members of the singing choir and the bell ringers, so we arrived early to run through the various songs we would be performing.

Entering the sanctuary, I noticed right off that something was amiss. “That’s right,” I remembered to myself, “Over time, helium balloons slowly lose the gas that keeps them afloat.”

Unlike Sunday, the floating stars and doves were not nearly so high above our heads, and the balloons were not reaching quite so high into the heavens. Something didn’t feel quite right as I walked up to the choir loft with my guitar case, and looking down, I saw that my left leg was entangled with fishing line from one of the balloons, which I now realized was trailing behind me as I walked.

“This could be a problem,”

I thought.

No time to do much about it, though, because we needed to attend to last-minute rehearsals while others were making preparations for their parts of the service. Some of us tried to fiddle with the cardboard symbols and/or tie up the dangling string, but it was time to start, so we had to leave it.

As we walked from the choir room across the front of the

sanctuary to our places, I noticed

a couple of the choir members

not in their robes trying to avoid the string.

During the beginning of the service George, the keyboardist and musical director played piano with one hand as he tried to brush away a string as if it were an annoying insect. The choir members are allowed to go first when we celebrate Holy Communion, but as I was walking to the alter, I once again was caught up in fishing line. Pausing there at the front seemed a lot longer than the few seconds it actually took to untangle myself.

During sermons, George usually comes back to sit with the choir. This time he unwittingly brought his irritating string and balloon with him. After a brief struggle, he freed himself and for some reason handed it to me. By this time I realized what had to be done.

I reached in my pocket for my trusty Swiss army knife — the one with the scissors tool. I pulled the string down just enough to be above the attached little dove and snipped it. At that instant the eyes of the church rose along with the unfettered balloon to the high point of the vaulted ceiling like a paean of thanksgiving.

The Christmas Eve worship service continued without incident and ended with the singing of “Silent Night.” As I stood there in the darkened sanctuary with my candle and the floating balloons, I gave a silent prayer of thanks to God for his sense of humor.