It happens . . . it seems that it’s a regular, yearly, occurrence.
A lot of people who don’t go to church throughout the year or wouldn’t sing about Jesus will acquiesce to doing that one day year–they will go to church for Christmas. They’ll show up, they’ll sing, and they will enter in to what they think Christmas is “all about”–even if it’s only for a few hours one day of the year.
Many churches appear to cater to those visitors. The Christmas service will present a message and a program and an experience that will help those visitors feel welcomed. That may not be a bad thing, but there might be an unintended risk in doing that. The Christmas service might end up being shaped in such a way that the Christmas message is overlooked or lost in a desire for unchurched people not to feel uncomfortable.
And that thought got me thinking about the first Christmas.
The birth of Jesus was such an astounding event that a night sky was filled with an angel choir–and the shepherds who were introduced to what God was doing were initially afraid (Luke 2:8-14). The birth of Jesus was such a life-altering event that wise men from afar travelled to do homage to the new-born king–and they had to alter their lives for months to discover more about this child born (Matthew 2:1-2). The birth of Jesus was so unexplainable an occurrence that even Mary was caught up in the wonder of it all–even knowing what she did she had to ponder what it all meant (Luke 2:19). The birth of Jesus was so world-changing that the king in the region felt threatened by the announcement–and out of fear he sought to bring an end to that announcement (Matthew 2:7-16).
Although the announcement the angels made was “tidings of good news,” everyone didn’t feel comforted by what was happening.
The shepherds were fearful, the wise men undertook a long and costly journey, Mary was left wondering, and Herod was angry. Could it be that for those who visit church once (or twice) a year need to hear the message of Christmas in all of its raw and unadulterated power? We don’t have to make Christmas safe, to make it more acceptable to those who don’t know the Savior. We don’t have to worry if they end up a bit fearful, or find themselves journeying long to understand what it is all about, or are left with questions needing answers, or even if they end up angry because if this message is true life is going to have to change.
So, let’s welcome visitors to our churches. But let’s also feel free to tell them the truth about Christmas.
A king has come. He has taken up his rule. He will rule forever. That fearful, challenging, and provocative message is what Christmas is all about. And we do not have to worry about making the Christmas message safe–we can celebrate all that it means!