Taking Back the True Meaning of Christmas
by Arches 'n Bells (funchurchplays.com) Founder Daniel D. Maurer
Take a peek at the picture above. Does it stir some memories for you?
If you're like me, it does. However, the seasons of Advent and Christmas have been hijacked by western society and entered into the battleground of the culture wars. I think in some ways the photo I chose above stirs such reverie and nostalgia, because it seems to be a era long past. Even when my family celebrates Christmas or anticipates its arrival during Advent, it doesn't have that magical quality like it did when I was a kid. Who knows . . . maybe it's just because I'm a grownup and I don't get to sit on Santa's lap anymore.
Seriously though, there is a disconnect between that bygone era and the way we perceive Christmas—and congregational worship itself—nowadays.
The problem stems from an ill-conceived (and untenable) marriage between the church and society otherwise known as American Civil Religion. Every year when the season of Advent rolls around, devoted followers of Jesus will once again take sides in the non-existant "War on Christmas."
The simple fact on the whole matter is that we no longer live in a country where the video below is an accepted standard. (The video is just two minutes and a kick-in-the-pants to watch.)
But y'know what? The death of Christian hegemony in American culture (and Canadian, and everywhere else) isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Because it allows believers to return to principles upon which Jesus of Nazareth founded the ministry and outreach, namely: equality, caring for the neglected and oppressed, love of neighbor & enemy, and the in-breaking of God's reign & kin-dom. The bonus is this new era relegates all the irrelevant shit (such as being offended reading the word "shit" in an article on a site promoting church skits and plays) to the dustbin of history. It doesn't mean that we have to rejoice in the profane or the offensive, that's not what I mean at all; it simply indicates that we can focus on the stuff that really matters . . .
Such as telling the story of Jesus!
I've written before on the power of story and its ability to capture the human imagination. Human beings are naturally story-creatures; we respond to the story, because we see where we fit into it.
Which leads me to the whole point of this little article . . .
The story of Christmas—and how we tell it—becomes the most relevant theme we can address in light of all the stress, anger, fear, and hopelessness we see in the world today. The theme matters in every season, in fact.
The story of Christmas is a microcosm of the larger story of God's manifestation of Godself in the world.
That's right—it's about incarnation. God taking on human flesh.
In maybe what is the most radical presupposition of Progressive Christianity, that the Infinite One dares to take on flesh and suffering to transform it, we find suddenly that the message of Christmas is relevant year-round.
Of course, the tradition of expectation and awaiting that-which-is-to-come is still important. But the fact remains that every day we simultaneously live in a world of where Jesus' love is real, but we know all too well that there is still work to be done.
We live in a world where it's "now," but also "not yet."
The best way to portray the story is through drama—theater, skits, plays.
Kids and adults alike will benefit from both performing and also witnessing the story unfold. I know I must sound like a stuck record—theater. just. works.
Let me tell you a story . . .
When I was in my first parish in rural North Dakota, the number of people attending worship went down at Christmas. It had to do with the community where I was living. Underwood, North Dakota wasn't a place where people stayed for Christmas. Instead, the majority of my parishioners travelled to be with their relatives in other communities, some even out of state.
However, people would still YEARN for the message of Christmas, which is about God-among-us. One hot July Wednesday, we decided to do a Christmas play! Phenomenally, people not only showed up, but they also responded to the unique perspective. (Besides the fact that we had our youth participate in the event and they thought it was fun (and funny)).
It was a smashing success. Everyone got to see firsthand what the message of Christmas really is about—no matter what time of year we told the story.
I hope you'll check out the seasonal productions we have here on Arches 'n Bells. The resources you'll find are not only fun and enjoyable; our writers take strides in offering solidly grace-centered theology with inclusive language. Plus they're super creative and fun. Really, REALLY fun.
Don't despair that Christmas seems to have been taken over by companies trying to make a quick buck. Don't despair that people seem to have forgotten the purpose of Advent. Don't despair that "Christianity" with a capital "C" seems to have fallen into obscurity. The fact is that Christianity is no longer a dominating religion. For me, it's good news—it gives us more room to live out and follow what Jesus was really about: love.
And love in the end is all that matters.
Daniel D. Maurer is a husband, a father, a writer, an author of two books (one here & the other here), a speaker, an editor, a website designer, and is owned by two cats and one dog. He founded Arches 'n Bells out of deeply-seated belief that dramatic resources belong in church to teach and engage. His non-fiction writing brand deals with the power of change and transformation in people's lives, because he's lived through a big change in his own life in embracing long-term recovery. Daniel also curates and edits and does other schtuff for Clergy Stuff, a provider of worship resources for congregations using the Narrative Lectionary.