Do Pastors Get to Celebrate?
I can still remember the day I told my family that I was going to be a pastor. My mom and dad are faithful people and raised me and my brothers in the church. We learned the importance of faith and service and hope by following their example. So when I got up the courage to finally tell them that seminary was in my future I expected to receive support and encouragement and maybe just a little bit of pride. Instead, my mom cried. Not tears of joy, but tears of sorrow. All she could say was, “You will never be home for Christmas.” Guess what? She was right.
When it comes to Christmas, pastors and their families often get the short end of the stick. While others plan their holiday vacations around those days off, sometimes traveling to be with family far away, those who serve churches move steadily toward one of the busiest days of the year. Not only do we have to work on Christmas, but our work is often magnified, with more services and obligations than usual.
No news here, but this is one of our busiest seasons. Not only is our worship jam packed with meaningful traditions and rituals that help us to express our faith during the Advent and Christmas seasons, but our church and social calendars are full of extra events, each important in their own way, but each taking extra time out of our already busy schedule. Last year Covid caused many of us to change our schedules and alter our routines. But even with the virus still a part of our lives, church life is slowly but surely returning to some form of normal.
As pastors we work hard to ensure that the events of the holiday season are meaningful for our members and that our churches reflect the central nature of Christ’s birth to our faith. We want our members to have a good experience and most of us work extra hard making that happen. But after the Sunday School Christmas pageant, the choir cantata, and the candlelight Christmas Eve services, there is one thing all pastors seem to share – we are very tired. And in the midst of all that it is very easy to forget to celebrate in our own hearts and spiritual lives. Too often Christmas seems to come and go with everyone else having a good time and we just want a few minutes to take a nap.
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!