Christmas – big opportunity or big distraction? From the archives – still relevant!
Okay, so I know that even writing this title is asking for trouble! Here’s the thing though – it seems to me that we can get so caught up in what we do at Christmas that we miss the point even whilst trying to tell others that they’ve missed the point! Pots and kettles or planks in eyes sometimes spring to mind.
As I write this I realise that I’ve spent much of my last four working weeks (and a considerable amount of time before that) thinking about and planning for Christmas. Rehearsals are well under way and we’re at the stage of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in terms of orders of service. Actually, I’m quite excited about it but I can’t help wondering (in my worst moments) if it’s really worth it.
Churches love Christmas because it’s the one time of year when people who would otherwise stay away still visit for their ‘fix’ of religion. Big opportunity? Maybe, but the question is how to make the most of it and still be true to ourselves. It seems almost undeniable to me that most people stepping through our doors at Christmas want some good old-fashioned traditional sing-along carols and don’t want to be shaken up too much. We need to be asking, ‘what can we do which is going to meet their expectations but also challenge them and shake them up?’
If we’re not challenging then we’ll remain a once per year stop off on the merry-go-round of life. On the flip side, if we challenge too much or fail to meet any of the expectations of Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms average then we risk driving them away without the opportunity to speak about something more than they already know.
The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to think that the simple act of inviting our neighbours into our homes for a party at Christmas could say as much as bringing them to a carol service, maybe even more. The message of Christmas after all is surely ‘Emmanuel – God with us’ where we are. There for the poor and dispossessed, born among animals in the stable and yet sought by the wise and well-off of his time. If we leave ‘doing Christmas’ for church I’m sure that we negate some of this message.
So what of the annual collective Christian knees-up? Well, let’s get together and sing some carols, speak about God with us and celebrate the miracle of the whole event. Let’s enjoy the traditions but also stay true to ourselves. Let’s invite the community in and challenge them (with our music, our words and our love) but let’s not think that because our services are huge we’ve done it. If the road towards faith is a journey, people need someone to accompany them. If Christmas is an opportunity then it’s a chance to get on the road with someone. If we’re too busy with our planning and presenting to do that I think we risk Christmas becoming a big distraction.
One thing I do feel quite strongly about is that church after Christmas needs to be recognisably similar to church at Christmas. How many of us put on a great show that will never be repeated or revert to the hymn, prayer, reading sandwich that’s alien for the rest of the year? I’m not saying that we should stick stubbornly to what we do all year round but that we should have elements of it in there. If your times of sung worship are long then put at least three carols or songs together at Christmas. If you use performance songs at Christmas maybe you could use them during the rest of the year as well. Be true to yourselves and people will know how to relate to you if they come again.
What’s your experience of Christmas at church? Was it the beginning of a journey for you or does it leave you cold? What are the best things you’ve done or seen done in church at Christmas? How can we make the most of this time of year? It would be great to hear your comments and experiences.