Unlike the calendar’s New Year, which begins with the bangs of fireworks or clanging of pots and pans, the Church’s liturgical New Year begins with this time of “getting ready.” There is something sacred about this rhythm, the anticipation for Christmas Day makes this celebration even more meaningful. Much like an expectant mother prepares for the arrival of a child, there is so much to be done in the “getting ready.” Our society and cultures have their own expectations that come with this, and it can be all too easy to be swept away by the sheer busy-ness of the season. While the “doing” can be exciting, there may be times when it distracts us from enjoying the spirit of this holy season.
There is a temptation to buy into the idea that “bigger is better” or “more is more” when it comes to Christmas. Whether this has to do with gifts, decorating our homes, or what we’re committing our time to, much is lost in this idea. Church leaders can be just as guilty of this as anyone else, maybe even more so. In our efforts to create special and celebratory worship experiences, we may get caught up in going “bigger” instead of “deeper.” Some go as far as to call Christmas Eve or Christmas Day services as “the big show” or comparing them to the Super Bowl. What this performative narrative lacks, however, is meaning. After all of the excitement fades, what are people left with? Once all of the gifts have been opened, are we really left feeling fulfilled?
Preparation during this time is meant to be more than buying gifts, filling our calendars, and putting on a show. It is meant to still our bodies, quiet our minds, and ready our hearts for the awe and wonder of the truth that God is with us. Instead of looking outward first, God is calling us inward. In our worship, in our quiet time of preparation, in our time with our families how are we engaging with something deeper? What meaning are we seeking this Advent season?
In time together, whether as a family of faith or in your own home, the arts can be instrumental in helping us focus on meaning-seeking. This is simply because without meaning, there is no art and no creativity. Whether this is the appreciation for the beauty of a landscape or the need to express our own human experiences, art has always been in the business of discovering and creating meaning, as has the Church. This common ground can be drastically underappreciated and underutilized in our journeys of faith.
When I share this perspective, I often hear from folks who do not consider themselves “creative” that this doesn’t connect with them. I think that’s fair because in our society our idea of creativity has been limited to artists with particular skills and talents. What concerns me, is that in this limit, we miss our God-given capacity to create in all of the many, many forms that it takes. The truth is, that without creativity there would be no human advancement at all, no reforming of concepts, no new ideas, and no problem solving. Some of the most creative people I know are creative thinkers, dreamers, and “ideas people” who have no idea how to hold a paintbrush. This proclivity for creativity is present in all of us, and is very much part of our “made in God’s image-ness” because the God who made us is a creative God.
When our worship and devotion take on rote forms of predictability, then we are not being true to this facet of ourselves and how God created us to function. So my questions for us this Advent season are these:
– How are we actively engaging with the Christmas story?
– What new perspectives of this story may we consider that bring it to life?
– How can we embody the truth that “God is with us”?
With our families, this may be as simple as doing less and being more intentional with our time together. This may look like buying less gifts and endeavoring to discover the beauty of simplicity. In our worship together, this may look like incorporating poetry, visual arts, dramatic arts, dance, or new music into your services. Or, it may be as simple as doing a beloved tradition in a new or more meaningful way.
God is constantly revealing Godself to us in new and exciting ways that we may not be initially familiar with or even open to because we have grown so set in the ways that we are used to. Creative worship doesn’t mean we abandon our traditions. It may mean re-evaluating some long held practices, but this opens us up to the possibility of doing the things that we love in an even more meaningful way.
The stories of our faith tell us that across the generations, God continues to find new ways to reveal to God’s people the simple truth that “God is with us.” Like on the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit has been known to move unexpectedly. Is there a more creative and profound way for God to demonstrate this to us than to embody a human form and join us in our human-ness? Knowing that to do this, would mean enduring all that comes with it. All of the joy and grief, goodness and suffering that encapsulates every human life.
Instead of protecting Godself from the heartbreak that comes from life on earth, Jesus endured the same human experiences that we do, just so he can say, “I know what that’s like,” and “you’re not alone in this.” This is the good news, and the best part is that God hasn’t stopped. God is finding new ways of making God’s love real to us. For the incarnation began at the beginning of time, we know this because John 1 tells us that this is the very lens that God created through. God didn’t create to simply make something pretty, but to make tangible love, which is who God is, after all.