If you are like me your life right now is filled with Christmas activities. I have attended two turkey dinners already with several more on the way. I have been to a beautiful Christmas concert. Yesterday the New Dundee Baptist Church, where I am serving as interim pastor, held their Christmas program. This coming weekend is our family Christmas celebration. In addition to the special events, we have been decorating the house, buying gifts and baking Christmas goodies. Actually it is my wife who does the baking but I have the responsibility of being the official sampler when the goodies come out of the oven.
I have always loved Christmas but every year provides a challenge. How do I make sure that I don’t lose sight of the fact that it really is all about Jesus? Family, food and fun are important but they aren’t what the season is all about.
More than 2000 years ago a baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem, a baby, that as the angel said to Joseph, would save his people from their sin. That is what gives meaning to the season.
Church has an important part to play in keeping this truth front and center in our celebrations.
Churches provide the whole story
Yesterday on the platform in New Dundee there was a small manger that reminded everyone of the birth but behind the manger was a cross. It is wonderful to celebrate the birth but we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus was born to die.
My wife collects nativity scenes. Each one is different. What makes them so special is that each one carries with it a memory. One is an origami scene made for me by some children in a church where I served. One is ceramic made by my mother and passed on to us after her death. Several are from different parts of the world that we were privileged to visit. Some are decorations that hang on our tree. We love them all and wouldn’t part with any of them.
As beautiful as they are though, they only tell a small part of the story. If we wanted to make the story complete we would have to add a cross and an empty tomb to each of them.
In the sermons that are preached and the children’s programs that are performed the gospel in all of its fullness is explained.
Churches provide a chance for reflection
I have to confess that in the day-to-day rush of the season I don’t take nearly enough time just to slow down and reflect on what it is all about. I may hear a Christmas song that sparks my thinking or see a manger scene that for a brief moment causes me to pause but I take very little time for reflection.
Throughout the Advent Season, it is the time that I spend in church that serves as my reflection time. I spend a few minutes sitting in my seat before the service starts looking at the decorations that are up and I think about the story behind them. I listen to the familiar carols and I am taken back to Bethlehem for a few brief moments. I celebrate the communion service and am reminded that Christmas isn’t only about his birth but about his death and resurrection as well.
In the evangelical world we don’t do reflection very well. I think that many of us are a bit afraid of silence. Meditation is for the mystics among us. It isn’t part of our busy, activity-focused lifestyle.
At Christmas everyone should be a mystic. We all need to take those moments to reflect on what Christmas is all about.
Churches provide us with a chance to celebrate together
When I first went to one of the churches in which I served, they didn’t hold a Christmas Eve service. I had grown to love that time of worship at the beginning of my Christmas celebration and I was determined to start a service in my new church. I asked the leaders what they thought and they agreed to let me try.
On that first Christmas Eve the numbers who attended weren’t great and everyone was gone from the building within a few minutes at the end of the service. The second year attendance was a little higher but people still disappeared right afterwards. The third year people stayed a little longer and then in the fourth year a little longer still. By my last year there I couldn’t get people out of the church. They wanted to share the Christmas experience together.
As important as family is to our Christmas celebration, there is something to be said for celebrating with our larger family as well. Now Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t celebrate with a larger group of people who love the season and love the Saviour as much as I do.
Two weeks from today is Christmas Eve and I am happy to say that my new church holds a Christmas Eve service. I am going to get to worship with my new church family whom I have come to love in the few weeks that I have been their pastor. I know that I will get to bask in their love in return as we wish each other Merry Christmas.
Jesus is the reason for the season
Christ is no longer the center point of the holiday celebrations in our culture. For many people this year it will be an excuse to party. For others it will be a chance to finish in the black in whatever retail business they might have. For the Ebenezer Scrooges of our world it may even be “humbug.”
For us, as Christians it is an opportunity to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and to marvel at the truth of the incarnation. Don’t lose sight of the place that church can play in reminding us that Jesus is what the season is all about.