“They have no interest in even putting up a Nativity scene,” he exclaimed, “on stage or even in the atrium.” The comment was made as part of an email sent to me with what felt like an expectation that I was to feel as though Christmas had lost all its meaning. “Our church has a big stage and the words ‘love, joy, peace’ in 1’ letters at the front, plus an Advent candle. They also are having only coffee with cookies and games next Sunday instead of a regular service. Xmas eve is just going to be the lighting of the advent candle and singing.”
I honestly was not sure how to respond. Have the words love, joy, & peace really lost all there Christmas Spirit?! If the pastor fails to deliver the regular 3 point sermon & reading of the holy text, has the story of Immanuel, God with us, vanished from community worship? If Christmas Eve is just the joyous voices of people singing in the flicker of candle light, has the mysticism of God’s intimacy with his people been removed?
As night begins to soften the room I’m in, I think of that first Christmas Eve as Mary & Joseph find shelter in a dark & dimly lit stable. It wasn’t the best of conditions & as Joseph maybe lit a fire, Mary, with perhaps the help of a few local women, began the painful process of giving birth to a small baby boy. Later, word would reach others & they too would find themselves cast in the shadows of this darkened stable, not by the orders of a stage director but by the spirit of joy shown in the heavens. This small community of once strangers found something special in the dirty spaces of Bethlehem; they found a common love for one another while perhaps breaking bread & drinking what was provided as they shared stories & celebrated a peace of uncommon mundanity.
We would be sadly mistaken if we are to think that the words of love, joy, & peace have mundane insignificance to the gospel set story of the nativity. To loose the very essence of holy meaning in these words is perhaps even more tragic in our society than the missing baby Jesus from the neighbourhood Nativity scene. Christmas is not meant to be a reenactment of institutional projection; it is an opportunity to share the experience of God’s presence breaking through to the very simplest acts of communal life, taking that which was considered insignificant… unholy even… & making it miraculous, glorified, & holy in every practice. What greater purpose should the church have in a society that has lost the meaning of Christmas then to hold up the words of Love, Joy, & Peace while singing in joyous song, playing games, & sharing stories over food & drink with their neighbours!