We in the Western world live in an increasingly pluralistic society where people from all points of the earth can and do suddenly show up seeking to become part of our communities. Even in Western Nova Scotia where I live, our traditional monoculture patterns are being changed by newcomers from around the world. Pluralistic cultures by definition bring diverse cultural patterns together.
What that means for the church is that what we used to consider the mission field is no longer just far away–it is coming to us. How we respond to this challenge will say a lot about our understanding of our faith and it will give an equally powerful message about our faith to people moving into our communities. Yesterday, we looked at the messages we give when we try to resist the dramatic changes we see happening around us.
What is we took the mission of the faith seriously? What if we began looking for ways to proclaim our faith in a positive way in a pluralistic society? What if, instead of engaging in a pointless effort to turn back the clock at Christmas, we began to look for ways to show the true meaning of Christmas in our communities?
If we were willing to become the living example of the Incarnation, we might rediscover the real sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst because the Spirit of God is definitely at work in the lives of all those who have not yet opened themselves to him. When we as well seek to engage in the ministry we are called to do, we are where the Spirit is and wants us to be, which is always a great place for the church to be.
So, what does celebrating Christmas as examples of the Incarnation look like? Well, it means that we must go out of our way to enter the lives of people who are not part of the faith yet. Many of our Christmas events in the church are designed for us as believers–we hope that we might be able to entice a few non-believers with Sunday School concerts and carol sings but if we really want to be incarnational, we probably need to do a lot more.
We need to plan and implement Christmas events that reach outside our churches and touch people outside the faith where they actually live, which is what incarnation is all about. We need, therefore, to know what people outside the faith need and/or want at this time of the year.
There are some great examples of such incarnation thinking around. Special Christmas musical events attract people. Such events might be even more effective if they are held in places other than church sanctuaries. Candle light services on Christmas Eve seem to meet a great need among many who aren’t a regular part of church life.
Other incarnational events focus on the stress of Christmas by providing free baby- sitting for Christmas shoppers or free wrapping for those like me who can’t make the package look good no matter what. Other churches show the incarnation by dealing with the conflicting emotions Christmas brings–being alone on Christmas day is painful and some churches serve a free Christmas dinner for such people.
Many churches, alone or with other community groups, work to provide Christmas baskets to people who might be struggling at Christmas. This is good–but maybe could be expanded with the church giving the community a gift at Christmas. While this might cost money, it would certainly give a different picture of God than asking the community for money.
Things like this provide a powerful message about the love of God. Certainly, no one of them is likely to result in instant conversions–but most people need to experience the love of God in a number of ways over a period of time before they are ready to make a decision to follow. The more incarnational opportunities we engage in, the more of God’s love we show, the more opportunity the Spirit has to work.
All these are just examples that may or may not work in a particular setting. The issue we need to deal with as churches and believers is how we show the love of God in our Christmas celebrations How do we let people know that God has acted in a powerful and positive way in human life? As we seek and implement ways of showing the reality of the Incarnation, we will be celebrating the Birth of Christ in a much better way.
May the peace of God be with you.