Joy to the world, the Lord has come! For those who observe it, Christmas is a day of much anticipation and celebration. In my home it is no different. Blessed with many friends and family, we have multiple celebrations to attend and gifts to exchange. It is a busy time with all the preparations and events at church. And there are so many traditions: the children’s Christmas pageant, our church’s Living Nativity, the Christmas Eve candlelight service, monkey bread on Christmas morning, family worship. Christmas is a wondrous time—a joy-filled time.
We do all these things to celebrate the birth of Christ. But sometimes I wonder if the Christ child ends up buried under all the wrappings.
As I write this we are still awaiting news of the whereabouts of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 is yet to be found. There are wars, rumors of wars, and areas about to erupt. People are suffering due to droughts, floods, tornados, and mud slides. Many neighborhoods are shooting grounds; abuse is a daily occurrence. Justice, the theme of Reformed Worship 112, cannot be forgotten as we celebrate Christmas. Christ came as a baby to rescue us but also to call us to follow him and be his disciples, to prepare the way for his second coming by building his kingdom even now as we await his return.
So given all this, I need to ask myself—to ask you—what would Christmas be like without the wrappings? What does Christmas look like for Christians living in refugee camps? What does Christmas look like for children who do not receive gifts on Christmas morning? What does Christmas look like in parts of Nigeria where gathering at church makes congregants the target of extremists? What is it about this Christ child that causes Christians, even those in the most dire of situations, to celebrate and raise their voices to sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come”?
I’m not ready to give up all the traditions that help make the celebration of Christmas such a special time of year. But I need the reminder that Jeremy Summers gives in his series “Prepare the Way” (p. 3): just as Advent is a “counter-cultural act of intentional patience” so Christmas is an “upside-down, backwards kingdom of Jesus, God comes to us” cosmic event. That is the message worship planners and leaders need to bring to their congregations amid the distractions of Christmas.
The more distractions there are around us, the more intentional we need to be about taking the time to unwrap Christmas—to strip away all the shiny packaging and proclaim the gospel message.