Prepare the way of the Lord. And all people shall see the salvation of our God. Taize chant.
Many people who do not otherwise attend church will make their way to Episcopal churches all across the diocese on Christmas Eve, and others who were once part of our communities will come back for that celebration. Some will come out of family duty or tradition. Others may come wanting to reconnect with their past and to sing, in church, the carols they know by heart. Some will come, including those of us who are in church most Sundays, hoping against hope to experience something that will assure us that light does, in fact, shine in darkness, and that God does indeed come to us, as we are, in love.
For those of us in church, preparations for that night are well underway, even as we mark the days of Advent, tend to the responsibilities of life and parish, and prepare ourselves for all the other celebrations of Christmas.
I write to thank you in advance for all that you are doing now to prepare for the celebration of Christmas, and to offer three suggestions to strengthen our witness to those who will make their way to us on that holy night. These are practices that I’ve seen in churches for whom Christmas celebrations are a central part of their evangelism strategy, and they seem well within our reach. You may already practice them.
- Dedicate all of the Christmas offering to a particular ministry of compassion in your local community, or in the wider world. The particularity of the offering is important. Rather than a general offering, choose a specific place where tangible expressions of God’s love are sorely needed and where we, as followers of Jesus, choose to show up.
- Ask in advance that parish members consider giving as much to the offering as they plan to spend on gifts and Christmas festivities. The average American family will spend $900 on Christmas this year. What if we all gave an equal amount of whatever we spend to our church’s Christmas offering? Whatever the amount of our gift, we could assure our guests that their entire offering would go to that worthy endeavor. Think, too, of ways to offer electronic giving, as fewer people come to church with cash or checks. (To learn about giving by text contact Peter Turner, the diocese’s director of information technology.)
- Include in your Christmas bulletin and greeting a specific invitation for guests to return in January for a particular sermon series or educational event that you believe would have the greatest potential to offer blessing to those who attended church on Christmas. Pick a topic or promote an event that highlights your strengths as a faith community, and that also might resonate with those in your wider community.
Christmas is one of those increasingly rare times when people come to us. Thank you, again, for all that you are doing now to receive them with love and great hospitality.
With a bit of foresight, we can take extra steps to share the love of Jesus and create opportunities for our guests to find on-going spiritual inspiration and welcome among us.