Most of the church buildings I have worked in over my many years of pastoral ministry have had only one door and the few that had more than one often had only one “official” door–there had to be a really good reason to use the other door, as well as someone handy with the key to open it. While there are lots of security and safety issues associated with such a building, there is one good thing about it from my perspective.
It means that by parking myself near the door, I get the chance to see everyone who comes in or out. Before a worship service, there is a lot to do and I sometimes miss people coming in but after the worship, I am a committed devotee of the old rural custom of the pastor standing at the back greeting people as they leave. That means that no matter what happens, I at least get a brief opportunity to touch base with people.
So, one Sunday a week or two before Christmas, one of the congregation meets me at the door. Since everyone else was busy catching up and talking, we were alone at that point with no one waiting to get out. As we talk, he said something like, “I came this morning expecting another boring Christmas sermon–but you made it really interesting and worthwhile–thank you.”
I appreciated his words partly because he says what he thinks and partly because I had worked hard to avoid preaching “another boring Christmas sermon”. But when I was working on the sermon, I was actually only conscious of not boring myself. I have been preaching for over 40 years and in that time, have been responsible for leading and preaching Christmas worship for most of those years. Trying to find some way to do Christmas sermons that doesn’t bore me gets harder and harder.
But I hadn’t really thought about the fact that most people in my congregations have heard those 40+ years of sermons–not all from me, of course. There are certainly congregations where that isn’t true–but for my area and the congregations I serve, this is very true. And after I thought about it a bit, the whole thing made me a bit sad.
Christmas, stripped of the commercial and cultural tinsel that it has accumulated over the years, is an exciting story. It is the story of a loving and graceful God shaking up the way things are to step into the lives of a rebellious humanity. It is a love story of epic and even eternal proportions, a story that has touched lives all around the world since that night when the angels announced the birth. It is a story of hope, a story as real as today’s headlines, a story that should be anything but boring.
Maybe it doesn’t stack up well when compared to the hype surrounding the latest must have kids’ toy. Maybe it doesn’t have the drama of the latest political production. Maybe it doesn’t have the attraction of the most recent sexual scandal. Maybe it doesn’t produce as much hope as the on and off ceasefire talks in the latest conflict.
But then again, maybe it is a story that outclasses all these stories and the real problem is with the presentation and the presenter, with some of the blame going to the presentees. (I know that isn’t a real word but the symmetry appeals to my preacher side).
There is an old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” While I don’t think our familiarity with Christmas breeds contempt, I do think that it has produced a bit of boredom, especially when we don’t make the effort to really hear and enter into the story. We who are preaching and teaching the story probably need to work at opening ourselves to God’s Spirit to find new ways to approach the story. We who are listening probably need to open ourselves more to the Spirit who is trying to show us new facets of the story that we hadn’t seen or haven’t seen in a long time.
Maybe all of us need to chop thorough the tinsel and gift wrapping and culture and turkey and find the story at the heart of it all–the story of how God loves us so much that he comes to us on our terms and on our level so that he can bring us to his level. I’m glad I didn’t bore my friend with that sermon because the story is too great and too important to be made boring.
May the peace of God be with you.