Continuing celebration

When our children were very young, we served a congregation where we had services on Christmas Day. The Christmas worship fit well into our family’s schedule, allowing us to have some separation in all of the gift giving. Our children would check out their Christmas stockings and receive one or two of their gifts early on Christmas morning. Then we’d take a break and they’d get dressed up for church. After church there would be dinner and more presents. It was at that time, with our own children being little and the church being a bit short of volunteers because of the holiday that we started inviting the children to come into the chancel and just play during the service. The service was fairly informal, with a lot of Christmas carols and the children were always well behaved.

Time passed. We moved to a congregation that does not have a tradition of Christmas day services. Our children grew up. We still follow the practice of inviting the children to come up to the front of the church and play during the service. This congregation has a number of nativity creche sets designed for children’s play. We put them out and the children let their imaginations wander with the telling of the Christmas story and the characters in the nativity sets. The children are always well behaved and there is seldom any disagreement or need for adults to intervene. When there is a need for an adult, there are plenty of adults ready to provide guidance.

I know that some parents prefer to have an attended nursery during worship and our congregation provides that service. They enjoy being able to worship and have a few quiet moments knowing that their young children are receiving attention. They find that having the children with them in worship is a distraction from their need for quiet meditation. We have also found that the majority of the parents of school-age children in our congregation prefer to have an overlap between worship and church school. Children begin worship with the congregation and leave for church school part way through the service. That way they get to experience part of communal worship, learn the responses and the practices of worship, but they also receive the specific instructions of church school all within a relatively short amount of time. It means a bit less time for church school and lessons have to be carefully planned to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.

Despite the preferences and the choices of the congregation, I prefer to have children in worship. I know that they can sometimes be a distraction. I can remember being upset when one of our children was crying as we were trying to worship. Worship, however, is the gathering of the community and the community is incomplete without our children. I think that the presence of children would force us to change our style of worship a bit. There would probably be less talk and more music. There would be more opportunities for movement. Children are often a bit fussy when restrained. If the community can provide opportunities for them to be safe within the sanctuary while still allowing them to move about the room, they can be part of the worship even when they don’t understand all of the words or know all of the traditions.

So I look forward to the 1st Sunday after Christmas. We get to sing familiar carols and enjoy the presence of children in our entire worship service. I don’t feel a need to water down my sermon for the children, but I do remain aware of their presence. I won’t be going on too long with my preaching and I hope to have enough flexibility to engage the children as much as practical.

The season of Christmas allows the congregation to be just a little bit counter-cultural. We continue our celebrations while much of the rest of the world is quickly moving on beyond Christmas. We are, of course, influenced by the wider culture. Church members have already asked me, “How was your Christmas?” as if it were already past. Our Department of Hospitality is hosting a potluck brunch today and the notice in the church bulletin refers to the event as a New Year’s celebration. Of course new years’ comes in the midst of Christmas, so the reference is completely appropriate, but we know we have to work a little bit to hang on to Christmas while the rest of the culture is quick to move on to other things. You won’t find Christmas references anywhere in the headline news. I’ve seen people taking down Christmas decorations and I suspect that the lots where the city collects Christmas trees for recycling are already filling up with discarded trees. We still have another week to celebrate.

We’ve been following two families related to our congregation this holiday. One is a couple in which the father grew up in our church and moved away to attend college then continues to live in another city pursuing his career. Another is a young man who was part of our congregation in his teenage years, but is not active at this stage of his life. Parents of both of the young men are active in our church, so we keep track of their stories. One family has a brand-new daughter, born this Christmas and the other family is expecting a birth day day now. I know that the Christmas season will always be a rich time for both families, filled with memories and love. I grew up in a family with a brother whose birthday is Christmas Eve. Our father’s birthday was December 28. One day is not sufficient to celebrate the birth of a new baby. It takes some time to adjust to an event that changes your life forever. These two families will always carry a sense of Christmas lasting beyond a single day. There will be birthday celebrations and family times marking the season.

So as we worship today, I’m hanging on to the spirit of Christmas. There is no rush for the celebrations to end.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!