I admit it: I like those schmaltzy Christmas movies that the Hallmark channel runs around the clock this time of year. Yes, they can be cheesy. But they always tell a story of some kind of transformation.
My favorites tell about someone whose heart is hardened and who is somehow an outsider, either by their own choice or circumstance. Eventually they get loved into new life and often discover belonging and community—which, underneath their hard shell, that they had longed for, though they didn’t always realize it.
These movies don’t often talk about God overtly, but the spirit of Christmas shines through. Forgiveness, second chances, and the power of love are common themes in these movies. Aren’t those at the heart of Christianity? I would love my own Christmas to feel like a Hallmark movie!
Fast forward to Christmas Eve. Worship at your church will probably include a full house, with many people you don’t see every Sunday. People we might consider nominally Christian may well show up on Christmas Eve.
Once upon a time I used to disparage that. Why come once or twice a year (Easter has the same phenomenon) if you weren’t going to commit to Christianity and take it seriously? You may have heard these twice-yearly visitors called C and E Christians—which is not meant as a compliment.
The wonder of Christmas
But now I am so glad those guests are here. Something prompted them to come to a place where they are not usually present. Perhaps the season has made them more open to the love, grace, hope, and forgiveness of God.
I can’t help but wonder if, like me, they want to star in their own Hallmark movie and experience the wonder of Christmas in a way that is not just a passing moment, a nice worship service, but touches their life deeply in a significant way.
One worship service may not be able to do all of that, but it could be a start!
Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., understands that Christmas Eve is a time when some people will visit a church for the first time or return after an absence. This church encourages its members and regular attenders to invite friends, neighbors, and co-workers to the Candlelight Christmas services. The church strives to make those worship services as powerful and meaningful as possible.
But they don’t stop there. On Christmas Eve, they hand out cards announcing their January sermon series. It always addresses a theme that could be interesting to someone who is new to Christianity or is returning to church. The series is usually provocative and/or very practical.
Last year’s theme was Antidotes for the Out-of-Control Life. I don’t know about you, but that captures my attention! January is their highest attendance month of the year; they know people are seeking belonging and transformation.
It is easy for clergy and worship leaders to fall into the trap of planning just another Christmas Eve service. The story is the same, the hymns are the same. We will get out the candles. It will be a nice service and then we will go home to our families.
But remember, somebody will be there who needs Christmas—God entering their life in a deep and personal way. They may just look like a visitor passing through, but underneath they are a seeker hoping for a little good news. Will we be expecting—and welcoming—them?
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church