Love and Good Deeds: Reimagining Christmas in the Church
posted on December 04
Love and Good Deeds:
Reimagining Christmas in the Church
“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds..." ~ Hebrews 10:25a
I feel led by the Holy Spirit to share a brief word of love and care as you head into the Second Sunday of Advent and move towards Christmas. I literally cannot remember a Christmas without church. Simply cannot. I am grateful to have been raised in a family where the Sundays of Advent were always about worship and Christmas Eve was always about tender homilies, carols, Holy Communion and candlelight. It was just how we rolled. While my family wasn’t perfect (yes, lots of chaos before worship and after), it bathed my Christmas in its real meaning. It was Christian Education at its finest. I dare say for many years church even REDEEMED my Christmas experience. It was sometimes the holiest and purest moment we had.
I say all this to let you know my frame of reference. I am a bit bereft in a Zoom Advent, and I may be quite bereft during a Zoom Christmas Eve. It challenges my rituals, leaves me a bit upended, but it also pushes me to even go deeper into my faith. It has already called me more profoundly into the scriptures; it has already led me to ponder the words of the great hymns, and why they touch my heart so much. I have found tears can come to my eyes even when I study the lyrics, and even when I open them on my iphone playlist.
The Letter to the Hebrews has been overused recently to make arguments for in-person worship. It speaks of “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (Hebrews 10:25) I worry that this passage, like so many in our Bible, can be taken out of context and do harm. I have been serving the local church since 1989, and I know so many people who feel a deep mandate to be at the church every time the doors are opened. I care about them, and I worry that some of them may venture into harm’s way this season because not meeting has been cited as “neglectful.”
The true, and wider, context of Hebrews can be found in the passage itself:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” ~ Hebrews 10:23-25 (emphasis mine)
While being in the same room together is amazing, it is not the very heart of hope, love, good deeds, or encouragement. I’ve seen lots of people in the same room together, and none of them particularly changed afterwards. It’s not magic.
If your church has made plans to be together this season, even if they have taken lots of time, energy, resources, and preparation, they may not be worth the risk in our geographical areas at this time. Our counties within the Northern Piedmont District are very much at risk of running out of hospital beds and other resources. If you need permission to go in another direction, please consider this my permission to you. I know it’s hard. I am experiencing churches putting pressure on pastors; I am experiencing pastors putting pressure on churches; I am experiencing church members putting pressure on other church members. I know this is hard.
Please remember what is most essential. Christ will come again, into our hearts, no matter if we have in-person worship or not. After all, “where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” (O Little Town of Bethlehem, v.3) We have had in-person worship every year for quite a long time, but many people have left the church building without him. He comes where he is welcome. There is no physical limitation on how you can welcome him. The important thing is that you welcome him. He is willing to be welcomed, and worshipped, in all locations.
I do ask you to carefully consider your plans. I trust your judgment, but if you are struggling and need to read this, may it minister to your heart right now. I love you all and want you to be alive and at your best for Christ.
Peace and Health,