…how is the church doing with this essential Christmas message?
Dozens of pastoral staff meetings where the Advent preaching series was discussed taught me one church nonnegotiable—the word “darkness” will have to be in the series somewhere.
Christian churches are all about darkness to light, sin to redemption, and meeting this year’s budget projections. Some things don’t need to change, they are essential. BUT, it seems to me, that we may be only assuming we are doing the “darkness to light” thing right.
Some observations you might have made as well.
Darkness requires confession. We don’t do that much anymore.
Darkness might suggest songs in minor keys. We haven’t done much of that since we were singing soulful Hebrew-ish praise songs back in the 80s.
Darkness means some serious talk from the pulpit! We don’t like to do too much of that because it’s not very user-friendly.
Darkness suggests that sin is real. We have learned many names and substitutes for the concept and reality of sin—many of which are kind of psychobabbl-ish.
Where did darkness go?
Many pastors, approaching Christmas and Easter, are very eager to move toward the positive message of both these high church moments provide. Who can blame them? Positive messages are more fun to deliver.
The problem is one of range. If a composer were asked to write a symphony using only 5 notes, it would at the very least be challenging. A church that plays the same 5 “notes” over and over might also be limiting full expression of the Christian faith.
Why can’t we celebrate Advent as we ought?
Church musicians have been complaining for years that they can’t really do too much Advent worship because their pastors simply won’t allow them to delay Christmas that long.
These pastors can’t see the value of spending four (high-giving) weeks talking about waiting, watching, expecting, and less than colorful reminders of the need for Christ’s coming.
It’s a struggle for me too, but the prerequisite for Christmas joy is the unending need of humankind for hope. Hope doesn’t usually spring up from good times. It often becomes critical when things are horrible and hope-LESS.
When we don’t let our congregations experience the whole of the story, we’re doing them a tremendous disservice. The church calendar, after all, didn’t evolve out of the need to have bigger and better events. It took shape slowly as a response to the metanarrative of which Robert Webber so beautifully wrote.
“Don’t worry, be happy,” to quote a musical phenomenon of our time, defines our culture and many of our church’s agendas. In our effort to keep people engaged both spiritually and financially, we may have lost the range of expression that ultimately brings happiness.
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