Has anyone ever really talked to someone who is personally offended by songs about Jesus at Christmas time? After all, they are still featured in the long-running televised Christmas Eve Carols by Candlelight program. Singing them at a time when people are open and receptive has actually led to people becoming Christians in our church. Rejecting them surely wastes an opportunity to showcase the same faith that has helped to make our nation great. We need Christmas because people need Christ.
The church I pastor runs a public, outdoor, fireworks-based carols event each year. Many people come and hear the Gospel in song and through short messages by local leaders (our mayor and councillors in the past, as well as by ministers). This event capitalises on local relationships with leaders and locals that we value and have worked hard to build.
We also mobilise many volunteers and resources so as to serve our community with various meals and programs. Many of the people we reach then come to our annual carols event and seek to further engage with our church, finding help through courses, counselling and practical support. Whilst we ideally want people to know Christ because we can see the difference He makes, we also don’t want to cease doing good unconditionally in our locality, regardless of people’s ultimate faith position.
Recently, a mother and daughter came to an outdoor carols event and, shortly after, attended a church service. They committed their lives to Christ and were then baptised. After inviting me to pray for an elderly family member who was miraculously healed, they further investigated this power in prayer. The mother decided to pray for her son with almost immediate results; he then came to church and was also baptised soon after. We still need Christmas, because Christmas is about the coming of Christ and He is still coming into the hearts of many!
Whilst some people may scoff at the value of Christianising a community through Christmas, few can deny that changed lives, miraculous healings, the breaking of addictions and social transformation are powerful faith benefits that should surely be applauded. We live in a great society where Christianity has underpinned our health, education and justice systems; this is often taken for granted. Rejection of these many benefits is often simply the product of an ‘atheising’ agenda.
A small number of angry naysayers conveniently point to the sins of an even smaller number of abusing clergy and to the supposed excesses of big-budget churches, but will thereby illogically deem that Christianity is unworthy of our attention. Few who further ridicule the extensively-proven validity of the Bible have never engaged in a rational discussion of its integrity and merits with knowledgeable Christians, some of whom were converted when they did examine the evidence.
To dismiss the value of Christmas traditions as a form of religious pandering or needless nostalgia, as some do, is surely a misguided waste of an opportunity. Even where the Christian origins of some of these may be in doubt, what matters is the associations of today. There will always be critics and minimalists, but proudly sharing faith is easiest at a time of year when many community bridges into schools, shopping centres, nursing homes and public spaces still exist.
Some church musicians understandably don’t enjoy playing carols, many of which seem complex or dated. However, these become part of the welcomed atmosphere of Christmas by which many are receptive to the message of Christ. Some people will only come to church at Christmas time and they come looking for tradition before finding Christ. Musicians play carols more often across their lives than any other songs (by a street) and these are surely therefore worth the effort both to learn them and to play them well.
Excellence is hard at a time when we want, need and deserve a rest from the extra work that Christmas can seem to bring, but people’s eternal destiny is riding on the choice to accept or reject Christ and that, to me, makes it all worthwhile!
I want to wish all my readers a very unapologetically happy, inspiring and blessed Christmas and a restful New Year’s break as I sign off for 2016!