The Genuine Spirit of Christmas - Revd Sheila Melot
Revd Sheila Melot, Seniors Minister at B&A Church, asks what our Christmas services are saying to our communities:
Discussing Christmas with other church leaders I identified three different approaches to this time of year and the services in our churches. In all cases the leaders acknowledge that our society celebrates a mid-winter festival which many call ‘Christmas’. They also recognise that many people have a sentimental love for what they knew as children, including the carols they sang and the story of the baby in the manger. And as many schools still teach the story and some carols, this sentimental love continues to find expression through the generations.
Having identified the context for what the Church offers at Christmas, the leaders then differ greatly in their response. For some, it is important to emphasise the distinctiveness of Church but in doing so they express contempt for the secular celebration of mid-winter. Sermons take issue with the feasting, the consumerism involved and the sentimental attachment to the ‘Christmas story’. They proceed with church services for believers, which others can of course attend, but as outsiders looking in.
Other leaders take the opposite approach, saying this is our chance to meet with people that we don’t normally see. So as long as we can get people into our buildings, we’ll enter totally into the spirit of the secular and sentimental Christmas and not ‘spoil’ it with any serious theology.
Personally I don’t find either approach satisfactory. In the dynamic between ‘connecting’ and ‘challenging’, each has gone too far in one direction or the other. The third way is the one which I think is the most likely to bear fruit missionally. It connects by acknowledging the secular reality, appreciating the importance of midwinter celebrations, and also recognising that the Christmas story and the carols we sing are now part of the heritage. They don’t just belong to the Church, but to a much wider segment of society. So we should not claim them for ours alone, leaving the non-churched with Frosty the Snowman!
Sentimentalised it might be, but the story of Jesus’ birth is known and loved by many who have no idea of the significance of the Incarnation. It makes sense to meet these people where they are, sing the carols with them, and in re-telling the story, challenge them to respond to Emmanuel – God with us. We can make our Christmas services so full of the genuine spirit of Christmas with the message we proclaim, the welcome we offer and the way we model worshipping God, in the spirit of here’s something we can share together.In doing so we will convey the meaning of Jesus’ birth that will break through any sentimentalism and make a difference to people’s lives, if they will receive it.