19 December 2014
Finding rest at Christmas
by Phil Moore
Christmas is a busy time for everyone. For church leaders, the busyness can be particularly exhausting. Not only do we have our own personal celebrations to consider, but we also feel the pressure to plan the perfect Christmas celebrations for our church, while also making the most of Christmas as one of the greatest evangelistic opportunities of the year. With carol services, school assemblies and various church parties, is it any wonder that, by the time they finally sit down to Christmas dinner, most church leaders feel exhausted? If you are a church leader, then I hope that these five tips will help you to stay sane and to enjoy the Christmas season.
Tip #1: Remember to enjoy the message of Christmas personally
Luke 2:19 tells us that: "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."If anybody had a busy Christmas time, then it was Mary, but she didn't let the census and the shepherds stop her from taking the message of Christmas to heart personally. Luke tells us that, even as she watched the shepherds leave the stable, she meditated on what the Christmas message meant for her. In all of your busyness, make sure that you take time to do this too.
Tip #2: Remember that it's all about Jesus, not about you
Church leaders can feel under enormous pressure at this Christmas season to produce several perfect sermons –not too long, but with a full explanation of the Gospel;full of humour, but inspiring people to awe and wonder;staying on subject, but nothing like the sermon which they preached at Christmas last year –the impossible list goes on. We therefore need to remember what John the Baptist understood in John 1:20: "He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely: 'I am not the Messiah.'"Our preaching needs to be good at Christmas but, above all else, it needs to point people to Jesus. It's a very simple task. Don't overcomplicate it. If a bunch of shepherds could communicate the Christmas message faithfully, then so can we.
Tip #3: Remember that Jesus is in control
Isaiah 9:6 says: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders." That's not just a verse to preach from at your Christmas services. It is also a verse to sustain you through them. Yes, Christmas is a brilliant opportunity to foster church community and to preach the Gospel to unbelievers. But no, the success of your Christmas programme does not depend on you. The increase of God's Kingdom is on Jesus' shoulders, and not on yours. The clearest Christmas message you can preach this Christmas time is a demonstration of your faith –events and programmes are useless without the arrival of the Messiah. He is in control, not you. Relax and let him bear the burden of your church's Christmas programme.
Tip #4: Remember that God is in our interruptions
In all the busyness of Christmas time, it is very easy to get irritated by constant interruptions. Don't people know that we have a long list of things to do before we can finally begin our Christmas holidays? Well, apparently not, and that's OK. Let's not forget that at the heart of the Christmas story is a God who interrupts people's plans in order to reveal to them what he is doing in the world. He interrupts Mary and Joseph's engagement plans. He interrupts the innkeepers of Bethlehem at their busiest time of year. He interrupts the shepherds while they are hard at work and he interrupts the wise men while they are busy in their studies. The heroes of the story are those who say, like Mary in Luke 1:38: "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."Don't be like the people of Bethlehem, so absorbed in their own agenda that they missed God at work when he interrupted them and tried to capture their attention.
Tip #5: Remember that all the busyness is worth it
God wants you to be busy at Christmas time. It really is the most wonderful time of the year –for building friendship, for proclaiming the gospel and for enjoying the mystery of the Gospel ourselves. Don't complain about the busyness. Consider it a privilege that the message that inspired angels to sing 2,000 years ago is now the message that makes you busy for a few days at the end of the year. The angel was not exaggerating when he told the shepherds in Luke 2:10 that "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." It really is good news. It really does bring joy to all the people. It really is a privilege to be entrusted with proclaiming the Christmas message on God's behalf year after year. Christmas time is busy, but it is worth it. Never forget that. God has become a human being. Now that's a message worth working hard to deliver.
Phil Moore is an author and senior pastor at Everyday Church in SW London.