Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Joy to the World

When you say something like, "Santa doesn't belong in church," you'd be surprised how much push-back you get. And it always ends up boiling down to something like this:

Why can't our kids have fun? Why can't we bring a little bit of joy into our service? What's the problem with doing something that makes folks happy this time of year?

There are two kinds of readers right now: there are those of you who read that an immediately agreed with it, thinking it's absolutely appropriate to be thinking about bringing happiness and joy into the world wherever we find it. And there are those of you who read that and think more along the lines of the point I'm about to make. 

(And this is why, by the way, the original statement is so controversial in the first place, I guess.) 

Here's what I'm going to say, and I say this with all love and a little bit of sadness because I know that many, many of you will not be able to relate to what I'm about to say, but...fun and joy and happiness should already be part of your church service. 

You shouldn't need Santa to bring it.

I just don't know how to be more clear about this, and I guess it's because we live in the time after Christ has already come, but the greatest measure of fullest joy is right there in the manger in swaddling clothes. 

Remember, Christ was God's promise from the very beginning. Christ is the Messiah that God kept talking about. He was the fulfillment of everything that God's people had been waiting for. There are four hundredish years of silence between Malachi and Matthew, while God's people were still waiting for and expecting something like Jesus. (They never imagined He would come the way He did, even though God said clearly He would.) 

When Jesus comes onto the scene, it means God keeps His promises. It means God is really as good as He says He is. Maybe even better than our understanding of "good" could ever have fathomed. When Jesus shows up, something in the pit of your spirit knows that all of the darkness is about to become light, all of the brokenness is about to be healed, all of the bad is about to be defeated, and goodness is going to reign. 

Revelation says that when we finally see Jesus, we won't be able to do anything but sing glory and praises. Rejoice. Celebrate. Heaven is described as a giant feast, a big ol' party. 

And you think you need Santa to bring joy into your church at Christmas? 

Friends, Christmas is joy. And if your church isn't getting that from your message about Jesus - not just at Christmastime, but all year round - then you're doing it wrong. Period. 

We have become afraid of joy in church. Afraid of celebration. We don't want to be labeled "holy rollers" or "Pentecostals" (unless, of course, you are Pentecostal, and then, hands up!). There's something in us that isn't sure about what we call "charismatic" churches, so most of us have spent a lot of time and and hard work stripping things like joy and happiness out of our services altogether. We have set aside a lot of time for, uhm, "reflective, somber, sober worship of God," a kind of straight-faced recognition of how good He is without ever letting ourselves feel or celebrate that goodness, and that's how we get to the point where here we are at Christmas and we know that we need a little joy in our churches and how are we going to get that?

Oh, right. Santa. 

No, friends. Jesus. 

If you're doing Jesus right, you will have all of the celebration you need this Christmas. If you get the reason for the season right, the decor (yes, Santa is decor) doesn't matter. 

If you need help understanding that, ask the baby lying in the feeding trough.  

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