I asked a good friend of mine why she thought we were doing the Christmas pageant this year. She surprised me by her response, “Because you wanted us to do it.” While I won’t say this couldn’t have been farther from the truth, it wasn’t all that close to the truth either. I responded, “No, you wanted to do it. I never wanted to do it at all.”
Now I wasn’t ever against the Christmas play, but it was not my vision. It was the vision of another extremely creative and helpful volunteer laywoman.
Our pageant and dinner afterwards exceeded my expectations like Usain Bolt turning the corner in the 200 meters and leaving everyone/everything else looking forward. My expectations could only see reality from a distance, and then simply stand there amazed after the race.
Let me share with you several reasons why I now hope that the Christmas Pageant becomes a regular staple in Redeemer’s celebration.
1.) Gifts. It takes a variety of gifts to pull off a pageant. Acting, administrating, artistic, planning, musicians, singers, technical, audio, “engineery” type people, leaders, followers. Pageants expose gifts in people that they or you (as pastor) didn’t know existed. Now they always expose the need for the fruit of the Spirit (patience), but at the same time they also give Spirit the opportunity to produce fruit of the Spirit (patience). I witnessed that fruit.
2.) Outreach. This is always my concern with most children’s activities: is there an outward component to our activity? We spend much time discipling our children in churches through regular Sunday School most of the year. If you want assistance in discipling your children, you have it. But what about spending a little energy on the kids/folks outside the church who don’t know the hope and forgiveness of Christ? Since it was our first play, we didn’t focus too much on outreach (we wanted to see a little of what we had before inviting those outside the church to see it), outside of ladies printing some very creative invitations. However, our church was packed for the play. Packed. And packed with folks outside the church. Were there unbelievers present? I can assume many were. Next year, we will make a more concerted effort to reach out. Regardless, many unbelieving folks outside the church were invited, and several came. Henderson’s were 0-4, but I know of one woman who batted .333. Not bad!
These are great reasons to do a pageant. But let me tell you one more reason why I so thoroughly enjoyed doing the pageant and it had nothing necessarily to do with the performance last night.
3.) Discipleship. Children today know so much about so many things, but little about the bible. In a season dominated by Santa and toys, it is so important not only to keep Jesus in front of them, but to teach them the Christmas narrative. Isn’t a Christmas play simply for parents to see their kids looking cute in costumes and mention Jesus when they can? I’ll admit they looked super cute dressed up as a donkey, camel, or cow, but I think it can be much more than that.
At the beginning of most practices, I reiterated EVERY week, why we were doing the Xmas pageant: “To teach you guys the story and let you tell it back to us so that we can believe it too.”
In Sunday School, before the pageant was performed, my wife began asking some kids about Gabriel, Mary and Elizabeth. The kids’ thoughts quickly turned to, “Hmm…well first Mary sees Gabriel and is scared and drops her basket, and then….” They started thinking through things that they remembered from the play. They learned the Xmas story through the pageant. It was supplemental discipleship, and particularly helpful for visual and kinesthetic learning types.
The Holy Spirit saw fit to teach the children the story. We accomplished the first part of our goal! The 2nd part is up in the air and will be less quantifiable. But why not aim big and trust the Spirit to finish the work He started? He may just use our feeble efforts to put people in the path of grace.
I could go on and on about other reasons for such a pageant such as the joy it brings people, the fellowship time it offers, the blessing it could be for the community. But I still can’t get over the fact that the play, at least in part, accomplished what he had hoped set out for it to do. Amen.
I will confess something, I don’t think I’ve ever been called a prude. But I’m beginning to think I am one, at least in part. I’m a self professed Xmas Prude. No one has ever called me that, at least to my face, or facebook, but I think I am.
I must confess I do have strong opinions on how the Henderson family celebrates Christmas and Advent. We have convictions, but God gives me neither the right nor platform (pulpit, blog, relationships) to demand people to conform to our convictions. Our lives, thoughts, desires are to conform to Christ not to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:1-2). But our convictions are the applications of the transforming work of the Spirit, and we know that convictions will differ from person to person (Romans 14). Even to the point where some things might be sin to some and not to others.
We live, or at least I do and probably the few readers I have do, in America. We have American Christmas traditions. As a result, our celebration, will have an American feel to it. And that is fine. The celebration of Xmas is isn’t in the bible per se, but we do say many folks celebrating our Savior’s birth. So it’s probably a good idea to do so.
But our celebration of Jesus’ birth takes place within a culture; if he were born today in America, we wouldn’t be bringing gold, frankinsense, and myrrh. Gifts and celebration would look more American. And they should today.
Yet that is only part of it. Because culture is shaped by people made in the image of God (good stuff will be present) yet fallen (bad stuff will also be present) we can’t simply say, “We’re Americans and this is what we do today.”
So in lieu of a Christmas rant from a Christmas prude, I want to pose a few questions that may be helpful in discerning what God would have you do this Xmas season. I realize people have strong convictions about other issues, so this is how I would want them to treat me. Ask me questions, and trust I’m in God’s Word, prayer, and in community. If we do those things, we can be confident that we’re in God’s will. So here they are!
1.) How does God want us to celebrate Xmas today? It is scary how fewer and fewer professing Christians even ask this question (in reference to anything). We all do a number of things to celebrate Xmas that are culturally conditioned, but the question is to what extent should that be the case? Does he want me to continue with Santa, Elf on Shelf from Hell(f), etc…..? Or in other words, is Jesus really cool with Santa, Elf on a Shelf, Frosty or any other myth we feel the need to perpetuate? On a side note, I think we all need to evaluate what we do each year (did we spend too much on our kids, did we bless other needy families or widows, did we care about others then but now?).
2.) Are these extra cultural figures things which harmlessly add to the anticipation of Xmas Day, or do they detract/distract/take away, serving as replacement saviors? In other words, are they primary or supplementary? I can see how kids enjoy Santa and Elves (though personally they are kind of freaky to me), and how parents find joy in them. But they need to be made supplementary. Just because kids enjoy them, doesn’t make them good. I stole that idea from this article on kids and Sabbath keeping. Novel isn’t it? Anything good can distract us from He who is great, particularly when it is something kept in front of us for a month.
3.) If you decide that they are supplementary, then how will you intentionally make them supplementary? If we don’t intentionally make Jesus big (or rather reveal to our kids He is bigger), then these things will naturally replace or overshadow Jesus. This of course applies to the whole year. Idols are never satisfied with a 50-50 share of the glory. Its probably more like a 75-25 % kind of thing, just enough so that we can still think we’re honoring Jesus in theory without actually honoring him in practice. There are only so many hours in the day, and after that only so many teachable hours in the day, and now we’re really talking more minutes than hours. So it does take effort and intent to pull it off.
4.) Santa traditionally understood- and I”m less familiar with Elf on Shelf but I think its the same deal-seem to promote shallow moralistic manipulation, doesn’t it? I made it into a question! If you’re good, then you’ll be rewarded. If not, well, tough stuff. But no one ever really follows through on the “if you’re bad scenario,” and I’m glad. However I heard of a kid say, “I don’t want anything for Xmas, so I’ll just behave how I want!” Smart kid.
Yet Santa could actually be turned into an example of grace, if he were to give good things to bad boys and girls much like God our good Heavenly Father lavishes grace upon His undeserving children. In teaching your kids about grace, how helpful/hurtful are some of these cultural forms of Xmas? Maybe you don’t feel these things hinder, but certainly something each parent has to discern.
5.) Isn’t it presumptuous to assume our kids cannot have the same excitement about Jesus that they do with Santa or Elves or whatever? OK that was rhetorical! Sorry. Now I know my kid gets excited even when a vacuum salesman comes to the door, but isn’t it possible that other kids can still love this season without Santa? My wife did growing up. I know other kids who are full of joy now despite never believing in Santa. I’m talking kids who have faced real trials with joy. You shouldn’t feel sorry for them that the “magic” has been taken away. Perhaps making much of Jesus the whole year had something to do with that?
And if our kids can’t get as excited, is that an indictment on the faith of the parents (that Jesus isn’t exciting to them)? After all, Jesus is as exciting as He is glorious.
If you made it this far, thanks. I’m fine if you disagree with me. We don’t need to be a people who always arrogantly and angrily have all the answers at our disposal, we but I think we need to be a people who always ask ourselves questions. That is how we sharpen and shape our convictions to conform them to Christ’s design for our lives.
If you celebrate Christmas with or without Santa or Elves or Blake Shelton, just remember to make much of Jesus, because He has made much of us by coming down here in the first place.
One of my, or at least my blog’s Christmas traditions, is to post and reflect on this quote from U2 frontman Bono. It never gets old. Just like the Christmas story. Every part of it seems counter-intuitive to me: God in flesh, the use of shepherds (sketchy fellows), magi (also sketchy), that Jesus was laid in a manger. How crazy is that? Where dirty animals feed. The king of the universe laid where animals feed. I hope we never fail to realize how crazy that is. Blaise Paschal hit it on the nose in his Pensees when he said it is not that God has hidden this message so high so that folks can’t understand it, but so low, as many will look over it.
This reflection on Christmas occurred after Bono had just returned home, to Dublin, from a long tour with U2. On Christmas Eve Bono went to the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was dean. Apparently he was given a really poor seat, one obstructed by a pillar, making it even more difficult for him to keep his eyes open…but it was there that Christmas story struck him like never before. He writes:
Here’s Bono’s quote:
“The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in s#@% and straw…a child… I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this.”
Excerpt taken from Bono: in conversation (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 124-5.
I’m not fearful of others trying to re-introduce Santa to my three year old. My incredibly awesome Uncle even apologized for it! I’m not worried when people mention it to him. I already see that he has a framework for thinking of Santa. He’s a fun, fat, old dude who comes out around Xmas time each year. But he’s no Jesus.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
The unbelief of a Christian is of a different variety altogether, but it should still shock us just as much. I think the church singing “Silent Night” is different than Faster Pussycat (an 80’s hair band) singing “Silent Night” on Monster Ballad’s Christmas album. Nevertheless, the unbelief of the “musical artist” (and I realize that is getting a little loose with the language), can still remind us of our unbelief and the disconnect between the gospel we sing and the gospel we live out.