Christmas. Once again Christmas. There is something heartwarming about repeating things on a yearly cycle. And then there are also fears about needing to be fresh about something that is very old. As a homemaker, I have that challenge with recipes and decorating, but pastors have it too with their preaching.
Years ago, as a spouse to a new pastor in a small church, I remember that blessed relief when the whole season was over. First there was the special Christmas evening with presentations from all the church groups and the pastor telling a Christmas story, and then seven services in 10 days. A pulpit exchange on the Sunday after New Years helped take the pressure off. I remember checking the calendar to see when Christmas and New Years would fall on a Sunday. Three years away! Would he survive? Mercifully, he did. We still check for the next Leap Year. It is 2016. But the service load has cut back and his experience has increased, so the season is not as threatening anymore.
In fact, as a pastor’s spouse there are some things I really enjoy about those Advent and Christmas services. My hubby tells me not to give away his secrets, but I maintain that what is truth for one congregation is truth for another, so a sermon from the barrel is fair game. The emphases need to be nuanced for the community, and changing time and place will encourage highlighting different aspects of the story, but the foundational truths remain the same.
I love my husband’s sermon on the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Before it starts I feel a ripple of disbelief go through the assembly: “Who reads this stuff? What can he possibly do with this?” We stumble together through the lists of mysterious names. The familiar ones give us flashes of deep stories, and the unfamiliar ones leave us cold. And by the end I can almost cry because of the richness of it all. Quite dysfunctional families are listed, but God still chose to have his son live with these people. Weird people? Not to God. Every hero and every strange duck has dignity because they are included in God’s family.
And as I sit in the pew, relatively new among these people, many of whom have been here for years, I know I belong, even if we all know I’m probably just passing through. Am I a strange duck to these folks? Maybe. But the names in the genealogies of Jesus tell me there are no outsiders. Each one of us is known by God. And for me that is so rich. So rich.
And then I can sing “Ere Zij God” (Glory to God) with gusto, lazily absorb the beauty of the advent banners, and hold my breath as another child fumbles with lighting a candle on the advent wreath. The buildings change, the people change, I change, but the fundamental truths embedded in the story of Christmas remain the same. We belong. I am the church; you are the church; we are the church together. All the people here, and all around the world; we are the church together.
You just read something for free. How can a small Canadian publication offer quality, award-winning content online with no paywall?
Because of the generosity of readers like you.
Just think about Vincent van Gogh, who only sold one painting in his lifetime. How did he keep going? Because of the support of his brother, Theo. And now over 900 exceptional Vincent van Gogh paintings are famous worldwide.
You can be our Theo.
As you read this, we’re hard at work on new content. Like Vincent, we’re trying to create something unique. Hope-filled, independent journalism feels just as urgent and just as unlikely as van Gogh’s bold brushstrokes. We need readers like you who believe in this work, and who provide us with the resources to do it. Enable us to pursue stories of renewal: