By Lois M. Saltsman
“I’m so sick of all of this, I’ll be glad when Christmas is over.” How often have you heard this or similar statements, even within the Christian community? Has Christmas degenerated into a major annoyance? Is there no longer any real significance to it? Could it be that Christmas has become much too familiar, too commonplace, and much too taken for granted? As a pastor preparing for the Christmas events, these questions, along with many others, come to mind.
Too often we go through the Christmas season mechanically. We, at times, purchase gifts out of a sense of obligation; decorate our homes because it is expected; visit people because we have to; and even worse, go through our time of worship wearily and automatically.
Christmas is special; therefore, our worship observance should be a special time of change, growth, and rededication to Christ. Those of us who worship in a nonliturgical manner are often less than gracious in our criticisms of those who prefer the more liturgical style of worship. At times, we have referred to such types of worship as meaningless rituals and empty forms. However, it seems we have allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction, whereby our Christmas observance has become too familiar and commonplace. A lack of preparation, as well as too much ritual, can result in a meaningless worship observance. It is my conviction that we as pastors can be a motivating force to change this trend.
True worship must begin first in the private life of the pastor in order to become a meaningful worship experience for the congregation. Worship involves a sense of divine call to prepare the way of the Lord, a time of pondering or treasuring the things revealed in private devotion, and then a time of practice or sharing of that experience.
John came to prepare the way of the Lord. Or more specifically, he was a man sent from God to prepare the way. The worship of Christ cannot be experienced at the congregational level unless the pastor has a sense of divine mission. This realization comes only as we experience fresh worship in our private lives. The true worship experience involves the recognition of our humanity being assisted and touched by the divinity. When John the Baptist shared the freshness of his experience with others, many lives and even trends were changed. As we give top priority to this principal of private worship in preparation for our Christmas observance and share it with our congregations, there will be a renewed awareness among all that Christmas is special.
The shepherds had satisfactory evidence of the truth of the good tidings and, having felt the divine influence upon their minds, they returned to glorify God, thus putting into practice what they had experienced. Just as it had been foretold by the prophets, they became instruments of God as they shared their faith with their listeners. Because their own worship experience was so alive and real, those who heard were touched and changed by the reality of the shepherds’ message. When we touch God, and are touched by God, a rededication to the message is inevitable. This sense of the divine influence should overwhelm our minds and souls with renewed conviction that Christmas is special. Surely this will bring about change within our congregations as they, too, are touched anew with the reality that Christmas is special.
Christmas is special because it means that God really is not far from us. He is here. Christmas is special because it is an invitation to live. As God questioned Ezekiel, saying, “Can these bones live?” so he questions our weary, empty, careless treatment of this special worship occasion. Surely, we do need to be personally sensitive and responsive to the one who came to dwell among us.
Remember the Grinch? He could not steal Christmas from the people because the spirit of Christmas was in their hearts. It is true that we cannot force the spirit of Christmas into the hearts of our people, but we can share the freshness of our private communion with them as we prepare for the Christmas season.
Pastors, let’s take time to make this Christmas season special by opening our lives to God, where each coming into his presence is a fresh encounter. Through preparation, pondering, and practice, our congregations can be led into real, meaningful worship, and a renewed realization that Christmas is something very special.
At the time of this writing, Lois Saltsman served as pastor of Elmore Church of God in Elmore, Ohio. She also became a licensed therapist, practicing in Perrysburg, Ohio, and Traverse City, Michigan. Later, she served as a chaplain at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, Michigan. Lois Saltsman passed away in 2015.
Article originally published in the December 7, 1980, issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission. Across the United States and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Give life! Donate today at www.jesusisthesubject.org/give.