2012 has been filled with uncertainty, division, and hardship in many parts of the nation. Power is still out for some victims of Hurricane Sandy, some voters are still mourning their candidate’s loss, and many families are feeling the strain of unemployment or underemployment on their already tight budgets. And now that we’ve turned the calendar page on December, Advent celebrations are in full swing in congregations around the country, turning eyes to Jesus even as we fret over life’s stresses and the added pressure of a hyped-up Christmas season. How are we, as worshipping congregations, celebrating differently Advent this year?
Reaching Out and Slowing Down
A recent survey asked pastors and other church leaders about the message and meaning of Advent they are emphasizing this year. Responses revealed a strong emphasis on local mission efforts along with the ongoing traditions congregations value. Over 70% of responding leaders are taking on local missions projects while almost as many are hosting their traditional music events.
Many leaders expressed a desire to encourage people to slow down to reclaim the real meaning of Christmas and spend more energy on helping others at home and around the world. Some even adapted their usual church programming to assist people in this effort.
One respondent wrote, “As I have encouraged the congregation to slow down at this season of the year to rest, we have eliminated meetings and other programs that were not necessary, freeing folks to attend the two special events and enjoying time with family and friends.”
Another pastor said they will celebrate “in a low-key, counter cultural way. No bells and whistles, no big pageants to create extra stress. We will be giving to a local effort to families who need a little help during the holidays, and we will be hosting. . . a [market]place to purchase locally made items for gifts.”
Helping Leaders Slow Down as Well
The country as a whole may be exhausted…but so is the church planning team, and no one wants (or needs) to plan worship or Bible studies from scratch. “Using a theme helps us to organize, plan and frame worship,” said one pastor. Using online sermon and worship helps like those in Ministry Matters’ This Sunday bins and on GBOD.org, or from Rethink Church, take some of the planning strain off of leaders. Church-wide programs and small group studies like Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, The Journey, and When God Comes Down provide a ready-made theme and structure to Advent offerings.
Keep it simple, and try to avoid adding more meetings and programs than are helpful for sharing the ultimate message of hope, light and healing as we await the coming of Christ into the world. In closing, consider how some of your ministry colleagues summarized the message they want to convey during Advent 2012:
Christmas is about love and grace and hope and healing and no one is left out and everyone will have a place at the table. God is with us always.
God's love for all people, the mercy and grace of God for every person, the opportunity to share that love and grace.
That as we prepare once again to receive the Christ child in the manger we should be preparing each day to receive Christ in our hearts so that we may be His hands, voice and feet.
God's gift to us in Christmas is new life in Jesus Christ--a gift for everyone.
Christ is the Light of the world and comes to us, helps us in the darkness, gives us the light and asks us to become bearers of the light.
That Christmas is about God coming into our world through Jesus Christ and that the best way to celebrate that is by sharing God's love through service to others.
That Christmas is more than tinsel and gifts. This birth story is ridiculously RADICAL!
What message are you trying to send with your Advent and Christmas celebrations this year?