I was reading some comments, IM, and e-mail in response to my last post. Instead of editing my post, I am going to offer up some further thoughts.
I grew up in the church and therefore Christmas productions. It was a lot of rehearsals and time that I could have been playing road hockey and in the end I was glad when it was over but I also admit it was kind of fun. It taught me some great truths, mostly about how important it was to learn my lines and sing in a choir (yes, I sang in a choir off and on into my teen years). It also taught me that it was okay for people to yell at one another and cry if they were musical. The community came, drank apple cider, and engaged for that season with our community. For the most part it was people connected to the performers (either kids or adults) or people looking for a nostalgic Christmas experience or other Christians looking to soak up as much Christmas as possible over the holidays (Christmas-holics?) I am sure there is some value in it and I am sure many people love it but come January, whatever changes in church attendance went back down to previous levels. Even if you are part of a church where a bunch of people come twice a year (Christmas and Easter), whatever is being done at Christmas isn’t bringing them back very soon.
Now what could be done with a couple thousand volunteer hours in the community? Servant Evangelism has a plethora of ideas to do over the holidays locally. Every day at work we have people asking for warm winter gear (thanks to all those who have donated). Globally there is the Advent Conspiracy where churches have come together to raise money for fresh drinking water in Africa or as they put it, “Advent Conspiracy is an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by worshipping Jesus through compassion, not consumption”. Other churches like Ginghamsburg have committed to confront with the crisis in Sudan. As a worship event, instead of the big event, how about stealing an idea from Grace and give people a “time out” during Advent.
I am trashing Christmas traditions and maybe there is some value in dusting off the Maranatha Christmas books but if the aim is to be a missional community, I think there may be some better options.
I had a couple of IM conversations with friends who commented on the past as saying that part of the problem is that in the suburbs, you don’t see that much need… especially in communities where the homeless problem is invisible and as one friend said, “People in my church don’t have very many friends who are not Christians.” I wonder if this the result of the church doing what Dallas Willard talks about when we take people out of the regular communities and keep them in church communities. Not only does the church deprive a community of ones redemptive potential but at the same time we lose touch of the community we live in.
It got me thinking of the Christmas ads the Salvation Army runs. Click on the ad for a full sized version. Partly because I can see a crack house while typing this blog entry out and where I work, the need is pretty obvious for me. Guys need warm winter clothes, many single parents who were on a losing strike at the University have very little for Christmas, there are even those who are trying to sleep outside in this weather (which makes the graphic there a little haunting to me). Today in a meeting arose the need for more programs for people with full blown AIDS and of course low income housing is a big issue with occupancy rates as low as 1% in the city.
There are a lot of materialistic choices to be made this winter (I have even linked to some for you) but as I said before, there are a lot of things we can do that can make a big difference for others this winter. Maybe my definition of “making a difference” is different than yours but I still think the church can do better than a Christmas cantata.