Category Archives: Christmas Eve

A Word of Invitation for Christmas Eve

I have long thought it was pointless to write a sermon for Christmas Eve. I mean, how many Christmas Eve sermons have you actually remembered afterward? Hmm? Yeah, me too. Not one.

So I’ve always operated from the viewpoint that the gospel could speak for itself this one night of the year. The story of the incarnation is enough.

But lately, I’ve begun to realize that this is only true for people who already believe. For everyone else, it’s just a nice story. It makes us feel all fuzzy and warm, and for an hour or so, we can bask in the gentle glow of candlelight. We can pretend that the cute baby in the manger sleeps in heavenly peace, and won’t bother us too much with the reality of our human existence.

And that’s where we’d be wrong. Continue reading

Christmas Pageant

“You are out of your mind,” I thought, as I heard myself say out loud, “We should do a children’s Christmas pageant!”  I had seen those things.  I had managed to avoid being connected to them in any way for my entire adult life. I had been an elementary school music teacher, and had still escaped from getting sucked into the Christmas pageant frenzy.

But this is a new calling, and I’m pastoring a church that has plenty of kids.  “We’ll keep it simple,” I said.  “Let’s just have fun with it,” I said.  “It doesn’t need a lot of lighting or sets or new costumes – we can work with what we have in the storage closet,” I said.

“I can put it together in four rehearsals, I’m pretty sure,” I said.

At the first rehearsal, I realized the script I had was too wordy to keep the children engaged in the story.  We had sheep climbing up with the angels and shepherds staring off into the hallway instead of lovingly looking at Baby Jesus.

The day of the second rehearsal,  the schools closed because of the weather, and when the schools shut down in this town, everything shuts down.  We had to cancel.

By the third rehearsal, I’d found a Christmas Eve Children’s message that I could adapt into a simple script. It had the children repeating just one line at intervals throughout the brief narration, and it got the whole Christmas story right, without being cute or overly romanticized.

Then someone volunteered to take care of the costumes.  Someone else volunteered to bring hay for the manger.  Someone came and read a picture book to the children that explained what a manger was, what a stable was, what a shepherd was … and the children listened.  Someone organized a treat bag filling party. Someone borrowed a spotlight for the angel, that we decided we didn’t need, after all.  Someone baked Happy Birthday Jesus cupcakes to eat after the Wednesday night presentation (aka, dress rehearsal).

Then the angel said, “Don’t be afraid.”

And a sheep crawled up the steps to sit next to the angels.

And when Joseph didn’t show up because he’d caught the bug that’s been going around and was home sick in bed, one of the shepherds turned into a wise man, and a wise man became Joseph, and no one whined or argued about it.  They just did it.

The parents sang as many stanzas of “Silent Night, Holy Night” as it took to get three shepherds transformed into wise men, but it only took two stanzas, not three.

And the wise men marched up the center aisle, exactly five rows apart, just as they’d practiced.

At the end of the story, we sang, “Go, Tell it on the Mountain” while the wise men filed slowly out, and the shepherds led the sheep (and one cow) down the center aisle, followed by the angels, Joseph, and Mary with the Baby.  Parents applauded.  Children beamed.

Somewhere in there, Christmas happened.

Sharing Bread and Cup

In my first few months of pastoral ministry, I have often heard (and often repeated) some variation on the idea that “you never know which cows are sacred until you start making hamburger.” When I suggested that we receive Communion by intinction for All Saints Sunday, the worship committee agreed, but there was a bit of grumbling after worship that week. This congregation is used to coming forward to receive a cube of bread, then moving to the Communion rail to pray and take a little cup of juice before returning to the pews. Dipping bread in a cup seemed … unsanitary, at least to some.

I assured folks that we were only trying it this way for All Saints, and intinction was not going to become the new norm (though I do think we’ll use sturdier bread next time we try it, like pita). I teased a few complainers with the thought that there might be even stranger ways to accept Bread and Cup. Turns out, I was right.

Online Communion  became the hot topic a couple of weeks ago among clergy in the United Methodist Church.  Out of that discussion came another about “self-serve” Communion, and I learned that “drop in” or “self-serve” Communion is something the United Methodist Church frowns upon.  In fact, this practice is in direct violation of the United Methodist Church’s published doctrine of the sacrament of Holy Communion:

Both “self-service” Communion, where people help themselves, and “drop-in” Communion, where the elements are available over a period of time, are contrary to the communal nature of the sacrament, which is the celebration of the gathered community of faith.” – This Holy Mystery

So here I am, just a few months into my first appointment in a Methodist church, where the practice for years has been to offer a “silent” drop-in Communion service half an hour before the Christmas Eve candlelight worship. Whatever my personal views may be about serving the broken body and blood of the Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve, I’m stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Do I tell the congregation we’ve been doing it wrong all this time, or do I tell the denomination our tradition trumps Methodist doctrine? Could I get away with a little humor, like these guys did with their Drone Communion proposal? No matter how I turn it over in my mind, I can’t think of a good compromise, and I’m not sure compromise is even a good idea at this point.

So, we aren’t doing it anymore. This year, we will begin worship at 9:30, the time the Communion elements were offered in previous years. We started announcing it in worship, in the newsletter, and in casual conversations last week. If you come to worship at 10:00 pm, hoping to skip the obligatory trip to the Communion rail, you’ll have missed half the service.

But you’ll be just in time for Holy Communion.

What are your thoughts on Christmas Eve Communion? How does your church do it? How would changing that tradition impact your worship on this holy night?