As a professional church musician, Christmas Eve is probably my favorite holy day of the year. December is all but over, and the frenetic, sleep deprived existence I’ve led over the past month is slowing down.
Most churches I’ve served or attended have loved Christmas Eve, as well, because it’s usually the second highest attended service of the entire year. And our contemporary church culture, in which butts in our seats mean everything, tells us we have to roll out the red carpet.
Not for our Christ.
But for our guests.
We know they will be there, and dadgummit we’re going to do everything in our power to make Jesus as easy as possible.
And of course, to such a church, liturgy makes no sense.
I was taken aback a few weeks ago when someone posed these questions to a Facebook group made up mostly of United Methodist clergy:
On Christmas Eve, do you have candlelight AND communion, or just candlelight?
For those who say “both,” do you typically have lots of guests?
Does the number of guests affect your decision?
Fortunately, even though gathered worship in the UMC is largely an unregulated disaster, many of the pastors reminded the group that there is no Christmas (literally “Christ mass”) without the Eucharist.
But laying that obvious answer aside for the moment, the pervasive idea that we must conform our liturgies to the sensibilities of people who don’t get them is patently stupid.
The liturgy is for God’s people. The God whose story shapes our liturgy, on the other hand, is for everyone.
Christmas Eve is not a time for our best theatrics. It’s not the time to toss out the most important, fundamental elements of Christian worship because a larger portion of our crowd might not get them. No, church! That might even make our liturgy MORE important, because by design it proclaims the One who calls us infinitely better than the increasingly popular ad hoc fun worship.
So dear church, this Christmas Eve, do everything you can to lay aside your pragmatism, your practicality, and most of all your paranoia over being misunderstood. It’s not your job to fit in.
Yes, there will probably be a lot of people in attendance who won’t darken a church door again for months. Yes, we should be ready to extend a welcome to those who come. But no, Christmas Eve isn’t the time to bend over backward in anticipating their arrival.
They aren’t the main thing.
The main thing is the Christ, the holy Child of Bethlehem who has come. Long have we waited, vigilantly have we prepared. We’ve done our best to keep the godless commercial season outside our church walls and heart walls. Now is the time. Christ is here. The little King rests in his mother’s arms, and came to change the entire course of human history. And the invitation he extends is so much higher, broader, and deeper than any fun experience we can offer.
The world had never seen anything like this little baby. Jesus shines brighter and purer than all the angels heaven can boast.
Let his story be told. Don’t let it be cut short by popular demand. Don’t simply sing a few carols and hear a silly object lesson and be done so that people can leave as happy and superficial as they came.
No, tell Christ’s story. So that God’s people can encounter it once again. And so that those who’ve never really noticed it before might see everything Christ’s church has to offer.