With my next two Christmas posts, I’m in essence simply rehashing points I’ve made before. So if you love brand new spanking material, then I just ruined your Christmas.
This is the time of the year churches spend months preparing for. Committees being meeting in the summer, anticipating the biggest day of church attendance the entire year: Christmas Eve.
Unparalleled scores of non-believers and non-religious people suddenly file into our buildings. The pressure to impress is huge. The theory is that this is our one time to wow ‘em, this is the one time we’ve got them in our doors, so we’d better make it count. Go big or go home.
I won’t pick on Pastor Ed Young’s church doing their Christmas services in 3D. Though this is extreme, it’s not too far removed from how far many churches go on Christmas Eve. It’s the night to pull out all the stops. You invite people to your church, hoping the pastor has crafted the most eloquent, beautiful and poignant sermon guaranteed to break hearts, bend knees and inspire alter calls. You invite people knowing the very best musicians will be on stage, and you hope their collective power and practice will create such beautiful music that it feels as though the Holy Spirit is hovering over the whole service.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, this only reinforces the idea that the church service is to entertain us, that church is something we watch happen in front of our eyes. We often leave services judging it based on quality of music, how good the sermon was, how the visuals were, if the coffee was burnt during roasting, when this is not how to judge church.
Our big church productions on Christmas Eve betray one of the biggest lessons we gleam from Christmas – that God is a humble God, who arrives on earth with barely any fanfare, in the simplest (and poorest) of ways. So we can crank the amps, put on a big light show, and hit all the emotional spots, but our God seems to prefer lower, dirtier ways.
Similarly, the most impactful Christmas Eve services I remember have always taken the less is more route. This is the power of the candlelit auditorium filled with the voices singing simple hymns to the accompaniment of no instruments.
This post is far too late of course, as churches are neck-deep in their preparations for their epic performance. Nonetheless, may we remember a God who did not appear in a huge heavenly production, but who went as low as he could go – and yet we’re still talking about him today.