Can Pastors Celebrate Christmas?
That wonderful season is upon us again, that time when we gather together with family and friends to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus. For a short while our everyday routines are disrupted by decorating trees and stuffing stockings, opening presents and singing carols. From family to family the traditions differ, but at the heart of the holiday itself we all have one thing in common – that baby who was born in a manger so many years ago.
But Christmas is not just for our members. Pastors need to celebrate, too. Not just in the leadership that we provide or the quality services that we design, but in our hearts. For as we say year after year in our holiday sermons, the whole point of this season is found not in the presents or songs or even in the event of our Christmas worship itself. The real impact of Christmas is found in how our lives are changed by God’s intentional presence with us. That is easy to overlook in the midst of the busyness of this season. But it is what makes the difference between just celebrating another Christmas holiday and actually living out our love for Christ in our day to day lives.
It is hard to imagine that such a small child could have caused such a commotion. But our traditional Christmas readings from Matthew and Luke assure us that the few people who were there recognized that it was indeed a very special event. Some came from a great distance, just to see and praise the child. The story of the wise men is hard to forget. They followed a star until it led them right to the place where the child was. And it is important to remember that in the same way, we all follow a star today.
Our star is the gospel message; the Word of God as we read it from the Bible, proclaim it from the pulpit, share it with each other, and show it in our care for one another. That star is one of the few guarantees in life. For we are assured that if you believe it with your heart, follow it with your faith, and live it with your life, it will lead you straight to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
This is an incredibly busy time for rural pastors. The services are numerous, attendance is usually up, and activities abound. We are often challenged and perhaps even a bit stressed by the many obligations that crowd our calendars and by our perceptions that each activity is essential to providing a meaningful experience to each of our members. In the process of “doing” Advent and Christmas it is actually possible to miss out on our own celebration of the season. I have to admit that there have been times when I have come up for air after the Christmas Eve services and realized that everyone else has been celebrating but me. And while it is understandable how we might fall into that trap, it is completely unnecessary. Because the most basic lesson that we learned in seminary applies to this time as well – it is not about us.
Pastors and church leaders are more than just paid employees in the Christmas service machine. Like everyone else in the church, this time is for us as well. When God came to be with us, he came to be with all of us. Not just those in the pew, but everyone who calls Jesus Lord. Therefore, it is up to each one of us, pastors especially, to make an effort to remember that this season is not about what we do, but what we receive. And the greatest gift of all was given in the name of the child we celebrate this week. I hope you will take the time to experience the Christ, not just tell others about him, as you celebrate the nativity with your family, your church community, and your own faith.
That star didn’t disappear when the wise men went home. It is still there, waiting to point you to Christ, ready to lead you on your journey of faith. Even those of us who have committed our lives to God and who serve as leaders in the church need to be reminded of this every now and then. We need to remember to celebrate with our lives and our families and our faith, as well as our work and service to the church. And that, put very simply, is what Christmas is all about!
Take time to celebrate this week. Christmas is for pastors, too!