I often hear complaints on Facebook about how early stores begin decorating for Christmas and selling products for it. Somehow, it seems like a silly thing to complain about. People can always walk on by and focus on something else. Some people appreciate the early Christmas roll-out because they need to ship presents to loved ones who live far from them. Crafters may need to start projects so they will have time to enjoy Christmas when it comes. Some just enjoy decorating for Christmas early because they love decorating. Where’s the harm?
Maybe I see this differently because I’m an overseas missionary who lives in a country that celebrates Christmas with far less fanfare than America does. My husband, Art, and I have lived in New Zealand now for twenty-five years. Since it doesn’t get dark until about 10 p.m. at Christmas in our city, most people don’t bother putting Christmas lights on their homes. Though New Zealanders cook up a grand Christmas dinner, they don’t decorate nearly as much as Americans. I suppose most countries don’t decorate as much as America does. Some people object to an emphasis on decorating at a time when Christ’s birth should be first and foremost, but I love the decorations. I love it all.
Since our youngest daughter left home early in 2000, our family has only been together for four Christmases. We fly back to America for furlough on November 17, so this year will be the fifth Christmas together. We can’t wait to be together again. We love to cut snowflakes, decorate gingerbread houses and Christmas trees, and drive by lighting displays at night. This year we hope to attend some Christmas programs our grandsons are in. One of my daughters and I share birthdays close to Christmas and that gets thrown into the mix as well. Our other daughter’s church hosts a live nativity scene and lighting outreach each year and this year we get to help. (Maybe they want us to be camels or donkeys??) So. Much. Fun!
Most years we are in charge of the Christmas activities for our New Zealand church. In 1998 our daughter, Lori, played the parts of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future in my play “No Room for Jesus.” I found ways to include nearly all of our church children and teens in the play, as well as the church choir and a few adults. In more recent years, parents haven’t been as eager to help their kids memorize parts or bring them to practices. It works better to keep it simple: Choir song, gospel message, Christmas Dinner. At first, I found these changes hard to accept. As we moved from an evening program with many participants and a fellowship afterward to a very small program and a dinner, it felt wrong. It felt like no one cared about the programs I worked so hard on, that many just came for the food. On the other hand, this newer model made it much easier for me since I always lead the programs. Most of our church people lead extremely busy lives and driving kids to practices and helping kids memorize lines just adds to that. Having a big dinner together seems to be more what Asians do than children reciting parts, and we have many Asians in our church. I had to accept that our church had changed in many ways over the last twenty-five years. We’ve had to flex with it and find new ways to do ministry.
What’s happening in your church? If you look back a decade or two, you’ve probably had to make changes as well. If you’ve had to simplify Christmas programs and services, you’re not alone. I can tell this from the hits on my website. Every year they multiply rapidly from September to December because people in ministry are searching for ways to involve their church people in an effective outreach. After decades of presenting the Christmas message every year, they are looking for something that gives a fresh slant to Christmas.
“Christmas Disaster,” the only program you have to order from a publisher, is a longer play with a few parts that have many memorized lines. At the opposite end of the level of difficulty, “Sounds of Christmas,” a re-enactment of the Christmas story that involves audience participation with rhythm instruments, has no parts to rehearse. If you guessed the simple program gets the most hits, you’re correct. “Sounds of Christmas gets more hits and comments than the others, partly because it is unusual, but also because it takes little work to organize. Sometimes we just have to keep it simple.
The Christmas season is busy and hectic for many people in ministry. For others it means being lonely and far from family. Either way, it can be challenging. We need to balance the ministry expectations of ourselves and others with joy of the season and rejuvenation. Of course, we all need to focus our thoughts on Christ’s gift of salvation during this season. Christmas gives us unique outreach opportunities. Family and friends are important. But most of us also need to search out some quiet time to rest.
Where can you find that quiet time in a noisy season? How can you rest when your to-do lists seem endless?
We need to make time for rest, and that means different things to different people. My husband and I put jigsaw puzzles together, watch a Christmas movie, and read Christian novels on our e-readers when we need rest. I’m always looking for a new author to follow.
If you’re looking for a new Christian author, right now I’m in a promo with fourteen other Christian authors. If you enjoy reading, consider these Free Clean Christian Reads that will help you find new authors. You’ll find two of mine in this “Light in the Darkness” promotion. All books are free in exchange for joining the author’s newsletter.
Comment below to tell us what your biggest ministry challenge is during this year’s Christmas season. What activities do you do to rest your body, mind and spirit?