Every church will find creative ways to tell the Christmas story. But here are some important things to keep front and center.
By Daniel Darling
By the time the calendar flips to its final month, people are either filled with excitement or dread about Christmas. They’re either singing Andy Williams’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of Year” in their heads or are quietly muttering Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December.”
But this season affords churches a wonderful opportunity to rekindle joy and wonder over the birth of Christ. Like the shepherds on that Bethlehem hillside, like the wise men on a pilgrimage from the East, like Simeon and Anna who eagerly waited for the Messiah, we can approach the manger this year and worship the Christ child.
How can churches help God’s people treasure Christmas this year? Every church will find creative ways to tell the story. But here are some important things to keep front and center:
Give them Jesus
It’s amazing that even in 2022, in a world skeptical of Christianity, we still pause and celebrate this season. Even the most hardened hearts will get swept up in the season—the festive decorations, the shopping, and the food.
But where will people go to discover the real story at the heart of this season? The church should be the place where weary souls can come and hear of the mystery and miracle of the incarnation of the Son of God, the Almighty’s stooping to take on humanity and live among the brokenness of the world.
Listen to the longing in the classic hymn, “O Holy Night”
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
If what the Bible tells us about Christmas is true—and we believe it is—then it changes everything. That baby, born of a peasant couple on the backside of the Roman empire, came to heal a world broken by sin, sadness, and despair. That child in the manger came to, as the hymn-writer Charles Wesley wrote, make sure “God and sinners reconciled.”“If what the Bible tells us about Christmas is true—and we believe it is—then it changes everything.” — @dandarling Click To Tweet
For those, like myself, who have known the story their whole lives and for those who have yet to hear the real story of Christmas, this gospel word is the best news, the only news, a weary world needs to hear.
Leave space for sadness
The myth of Christmas is that it requires you to come with manufactured happiness. But this time of year, so many are lonely, hurting, and in pain. Some families are displaced by war or unrest, spending this holiday in a place far from home. Others look around and see an empty place at the table where a loved one once sat. Still, there are many who face uncertain economic futures, fractured relationships, or depression. The holidays can stir up emotions and sadness, a sad nostalgia over what has been lost.
We are also living in a broken world, riven by war, famine, and disease. Every week we hear of another mass shooting in yet another previously-thought safe place. Or we hear of another politician caught in a scandal or another hypocritical church leader.
Sometimes the festivities of Christmas seem a mockery to our present distress. Yet, the real story of Christmas encompasses the evil and messiness of the world. Jesus was born, not into an idyllic setting, but into the squalor of a dysfunctional ruler. The people of God were jaded, a bit cynical about the prophetic promises that seemed distant and impossible. The original Christmas story is a harrowing tale of the murder of innocents, indifference by religious leaders, and a people who had lost their home and their national identity.“You can bring your heartache, your rejection, and your fears to Christmas because the one who dwelled among us can bear your deepest pain.” — @dandarling Click To Tweet
God with us—Immanuel—means He has visited us in our distress. So, you can bring your heartache, your rejection, and your fears to Christmas because the one who dwelled among us can bear your deepest pain.
Sing the carols
The hymnody of Christmas is some of the richest and most creative art the church has produced. There are wonderful new songs being written by artists today that your church should introduce to God’s people for worship. But don’t hesitate to regularly and repeatedly sing the beautiful, timeless carols this season.
Singing these lyrics, some of which express profound and beautiful theology, helps form and shape the hearts and minds of Christians over a lifetime. They draw us back—away from the noise of the world, the business of our personal lives, the chaos of the moment—toward true worship. Christmas carols are a common language, connecting us across time and denominational and tribal divisions, uniting in worship to the bride of Christ.
Put yourself in the sandals of the characters
The people who make up the nativity sets that sit atop our mantles are not merely wooden characters but were real, live flesh and blood humans who were chosen by God to make up the cast of that first Christmas.“The people who make up the nativity sets that sit atop our mantles are not merely wooden characters but were real, live flesh and blood humans who were chosen by God.” — @dandarling Click To Tweet
Joseph was an ordinary man who was thrust into leadership and who exhibited obedience and faithfulness. Mary was a young girl who said yes to bearing and caring for the Son of God. The shepherds responded to the angels with immediate worship and evangelism. The wise men took great expense and trouble to seek out Jesus. Anna and Simeon believed, against all hope, that the prophecies in Scripture would come to pass in their day. Retell their stories. Help your people imagine themselves in the sandals of these ordinary people.
Send people out with joy
There is a temptation to rail every year about the “commercialization of Christmas.” And there is something to be said about the way the story of the incarnation can get buried under the pomp and circumstance of the season. But rather than using your influence to go off about a beleaguered retail employee who says “happy holidays” or an obscure town somewhere that didn’t allow a Christmas tree at city hall, perhaps use this moment to invite the watching world into the real story of the first advent.
Tell the story that makes “a weary world rejoice,” a story that is more than just a sentimental time of good feelings. Just listen to Mary’s words:
My soul magnifies the Lord,Luke 1:46-55, CSB
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
because he has looked with favor
on the humble condition of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations
will call me blessed,
because the Mighty One
has done great things for me,
and his name is holy.
His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
He has done a mighty deed with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
because of the thoughts of their hearts;
he has toppled the mighty from their thrones
and exalted the lowly.
He has satisfied the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering his mercy
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he spoke to our ancestors.
This is why we can say Christmas is joy to the world, why we should listen to or “hark” what the Angels are singing, why that silent night in Bethlehem was a holy night.
For permission to republish this article, contact Marissa Postell Sullivan.