Don’t miss your chance! There are now 12 days until Christmas. But note: these are not the 12 days after Christmas, when we celebrate our stuff by singing of a partridge in a pear tree, turtle doves, golden rings, and lords a leaping. Did you know that the cost of all the items in the holiday classic The Twelve Days of Christmas jumped to $23,439 this year, an increase of $1,974 from last year? PNC Wealth Management, which annually tracks the cost of the goods named in the carol, says that the increase is due to rising gold commodity prices as well as the higher cost for benefits and wages of entertainers. The greatest increase was for the nine ladies dancing, which rose by $820, or 15%.
Consider, however, the 12 days before Christmas. During the next 12 days our friends, relatives, business colleagues, and neighbors are more open to the good news of Jesus Christ than at any other time of the year.
- The winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, is Dec. 21. In the winter many of us experience a mild form of depression called SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which can dull our senses and mask our joy.
- The cold and snow keep us inside, which means less exercise and fresh air.
- Our compulsive preparations for Christmas reach the point of frenzy and near panic, even as we recognize the ultimate emptiness of “things.”
- The approaching new year is a time of death and rebirth not only in nature but within human hearts, minds, and spirits. We desire for our life to count for something and want to make a lasting difference in the world.
- There is a deep yearning for connection with family and friends during this season.
Most of all, as Christmas approaches, we humans recognize our longing for God. Nothing else will satisfy the heart. The words of the psalmist thousands of years ago express our hunger so well, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42)
I believe that Christmas Eve, even more than Easter, is our single greatest opportunity to share the gospel in a way that connects, convicts, and transforms. Perhaps it’s because the contradictory interplay of sacred and secular Christmas customs too often leaves us frustrated, stressed, vulnerable, and seeking a different way to “be” in this season and into a new year. The longing of Christmas Eve is for an incarnated God who chooses to become like us, who understands our struggles, has experienced our pain, accepts us just as we are, and desires for us to become all that God created us to be
The only purpose of our Christmas Eve services is to facilitate an encounter between our worshippers and God. What worshippers long for more than anything on this holiest of nights is to be part of something larger than themselves. Worship is the portal through which we find God and our true self. It’s the lens through which we are free to wonder about our longings and embrace, confront, and understand them, surrounded by God’s grace.
I invite you to consider 12 suggestions for the next 12 days as you prepare to welcome guests into your midst on Christmas Eve.
The 12 Days Before Christmas
12. Pray for all of God’s children around the world, that their longing for God will give them the courage to walk into a church on Christmas Eve.
11. Advertise in the way that best suits your congregation and location: newspaper, church sign, web site, Facebook, Twitter, email, mass mailings, and, best of all, word of mouth.
10. Prepare your church building, inside and out, so that worshippers enter a space that is warm, clean, welcoming, and reverent.
9. Plan for meaningful human contact and hospitality by having trained greeters in the parking lot as well as at each entrance and throughout the building.
8. Review the entire order of worship with your purpose in mind: how will you facilitate an encounter with God? How will the movement of worship acknowledge the wilderness of longing, explore that longing in the biblical story, invite people to personal transformation, and offer ways to act on that commitment?
7. Allow space for silence and reflection: worship should not be so busy that we cannot hear the cry of our own heart, let alone God’s voice.
6. Challenge people to respond to God’s call to discipleship. Inviting worshippers to come forward and kneel at the communion rail to receive the sacrament is a powerful way to respond to God’s grace.
5. Give people an opportunity to share their financial resources so that, like the angels’ song, their contribution becomes a sign of peace on earth.
4. In your sermon preparation, picture the expectant faces of the children, teenagers, young adults, parents, grandparents, and the elderly who are waiting for a word from God.
3. Creatively promote your January 2011 worship series on Christmas Eve so that guests are persuaded to return.
2. Include prayers for those around the world who are sick, depressed, lonely, or are experiencing hardship; for all people who need warm clothes, food, and shelter; and for immigrants, the oppressed, and all who are caught in the crossfire of war.
1. Respect the serious, meditative, and holy nature of Christmas Eve. Guests are not coming to your church on Christmas Eve to experience the WOW factor. They do not expect or desire glitz. They do not want to leave with a shallow “feel good” experience. They don’t want a lecture on the current theories regarding the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem. They don’t care where the magi came from, whether the innkeeper was good or bad, or whether Joseph was Jesus’ “real father.”
Most of us have access to the Internet and can do research on our own. We also have 1,000 channels on our TV, which provide limitless entertainment 24 hours a day. There is only one thing that Christmas Eve worshippers long for. They long to wrestle with this deep yearning in their heart. They long for worship to connect them with God, touch their spirits, offer a word of hope, and lead them into a personal relationship with this baby, Jesus, who is love incarnate. They long for the preacher to bring the biblical story alive: to draw connections, interpret, challenge, and speak to their heart, so that Mary and Joseph’s story becomes their story. They long to allow the power of the Holy Spirit to be unleashed in their lives.
See their faces. Know their stories. Understand their hopes and dreams. Recognize their longing. Every person who comes to Christmas Eve worship in your church is open, for the Holy Spirit is already at work preparing hearts and minds. Members and guests alike will come no matter what the weather is like and no matter how many gifts are still unwrapped. They will come alert and hungry to be challenged to a new way of living and being.
Do not underestimate what God can do on Christmas Eve through you and your church. And do not be afraid of what God might do when the Spirit starts moving. It’s our chance to usher in God’s kingdom on this earth. There are 12 days before Christmas.
- The partridges, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings, geese, swans, maids, ladies, lords, pipers, and drummers are ready.
- Our members and guests are ready.
- The Holy Spirit is ready.
- Our world is ready.
- Are you ready?