The Ideal Christmas Service

Some churches are already planning Christmas — and some have been at it for months already. Even low churches observe the Church’s calendar at Christmas. At major Christian calendar events — Christmas, Good Friday, Easter — Scripture should take the lead. Our words fail in comparison to the sacredness of Scripture, to the beautiful simplicity of the Story, of the songs that have gathered around that Story, and of the Eucharist that brings it all into focus. Our “events” detract from the Event. Our glory diminishes the Story.

What is your ideal Christmas service?

So my ideal Christmas service is one in which the reading of major biblical texts does all the work. Congregants aren’t looking for special sermons with special insights; nor are they looking for performance. They are gathered to hear the Story and enter into the Story. Here is a good selection of texts which can be inserted into your Order for Worship:

Psalm 96

Isaiah 9:1-7; 52:7-10; 62:6-7, 10-12

Matthew 1:1-17

Luke 2:1-20

Matthew 1:18-25; 2:1-14

John 1:1-14

1 Corinthians 15:3-5

Hebrews 1:1-12

Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Each text can have a 2-3 sentence introduction; songs can be interspersed; we can all gather then at the table for Christmas Eucharist. When we eat and drink we enter into the Story. That’s why we gather.

We don’t need anything more or anything else.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • David Dollins

    I really like this post – because of its simplicity, and because it’s on the mark. And yes, sometimes we just need to hear the story again. I plan to print this page today and hold back for reference. Thanks.

  • Joe

    Love it. We are planning a lessons and carols service at my nursing home. Thanks for some reading suggestions.

  • Deets

    This is a wonderful service. I would include a child in the readings, especially reading the passages about a child. In fact, I’d have a diverse group of 3 or 4 readers to demonstrate that the Son came for the whole world, and he is accessible to the whole family of God.

    Lastly, I would mix in the great Christmas songs of many generations, but I’d avoid a few that confuse theology: Silent Night (which paints a odd picture of the world that Jesus entered), Away in a Manger (which seems to eliminate the humanness of Jesus) and We Three Kings (which doesn’t focus on the Savior but the events and not very well at that).

    I’d love to hear songs that others would include.

  • Phil Miller

    As long as it doesn’t involve something stupid like the freakin’ iPad choir North Point iPad band…

    Seriously, though the most meaningful Christmas services I’ve been to have been rather simple. I appreciate when they focus on Scripture reading and have rather simply instrumentation. One of the most memorable ones from a musical perspective had a bunch of candles on the stage (I realize some congregations get nervous about this, and that’s understandable, but there are some cool LED options available now), and the pared the band down to acoustic guitars, piano, and hand percussion. We would do something similar in our campus church. I would always try to present a narrative flow in the service.

    It wouldn’t necessarily all translate into a service, but I think Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God is an excellent example of how to use music to point to a bigger narrative.

  • Rodney Reeves

    Great idea, Scot. Between the readings from Hebrews and Titus, I would add Revelation 12:1-11.

  • Clay Knick

    Sounds similar to what we have been doing for a number of years.

  • http://www.waulkthisway.com Joshua Waulk

    Scot,

    Can you offer any feedback as to why the form of a worship service would or should be any different at any other time of year, i.e. Scripture reading w/little exposition?

    Thanks.

  • http://DrIBEXIdeas William Varner

    Thanks. This can relieve pastors from the agonizing question of “what can I come up with this year that is fresh and new?” Why does it have to be “new”?

  • scotmcknight

    Joshua, intensity of the event – Advent, Christmas — we need to quiet ourselves and listen.

  • Don

    I consider preaching on Christmas Eve to be such a privilege that I would not want a service of text, song, prayers without preaching (even though it needs to be brutally short). My reason is that preaching is incarnational and puts a face on the good news. I agree with getting rid of a lot of cultural clutter, but I really like announcing Good News!

  • Chad

    My wife and I have actually began attending a local PCA church on Christmas and Easter just to experience a good worship service. The independent evangelical church that we belong to sees these days as big evangelistic outreach events and guess what, we somehow totally miss the whole celebration of Christ’s first advent and resurrection. Puzzling, and disappointing.

  • http://mikesnow.org Michael Snow

    We all love the what we do inside the box at Christmas, but how many plan ahead to share the Christmas story with those outside the box?
    http://sdcougar.startlogic.com/blog/?p=169

  • Lorna E

    You pretty much described our Christmas Eve service. We end with a song “The Light of Christ” with everyone holding lighted candles that began with the candles from the advent wreath.


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