Church musicians do it every Christmas season. There is a recurring rhythm to it. Sometime between the start of school and Halloween, we plan all the activities for our choirs and church groups for Christmas caroling in December. We make the contacts and schedule the dates and locations: adult, youth, and children's choirs; handbells; brass; dancers; drama groups; Sunday School classes; UM Youth Fellowship; maybe even the UM Men and UM Women's groups; and perhaps a "y'all come" night when anyone in the church shows up to go caroling.
We also must contact all the agencies, organizations, and individuals where we will go to sing or play carols: the sick and shut-ins of our own congregation; older members; residents in the neighborhood of our church; the hospitals; the nursing homes; day-care centers; the shopping malls and other stores; radio and TV stations; Sunday school classes, especially those for older adults; the local Ronald McDonald House; and the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs.
Many of us concentrate our efforts where we think they are most needed: homes of the sick and shut-in, hospitals, and nursing homes. It makes us feel good to think that we may have brought a bit of joy and Christmas cheer to those most in need. It is an opportunity for us to serve and be in ministry. It is also a way to teach our young children and youth what ministry and service to others are.
Our good deeds of ministry and service at Christmas are received with thanks and grateful hearts, even if the sick, shut-in, and residents of nursing homes have had similar groups walking through their halls every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Is it possible that they tire of our good deeds? Is it possible that with the Baptists coming on Monday night, the Lutherans on Tuesday, the Presbyterians on Wednesday, the Catholics on Thursday, and the United Methodists on Friday, all of them with smiling faces and eager voices . . . is it possible that they grow weary of hearing "Away In a Manger" sung outside their doorway six days in a row, or almost daily for thirty days in December?
Our intentions are good. But let me suggest an alternative to adding to the Christmas rush at the local nursing home and further busying our own lives with such activities during the Christmas season. Look at your next year's calendar this month. What special days will come next year when you might do something for these same people and groups at times other than Christmas? Think of a theme, a holiday, or an event and plan a program around it: Valentine's Day, Boy Scout and Girl Scout Days, Easter, spring, April Fool's Day, Earth Day, Arbor Day, Mother's Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, Flag Day, summer, Independence Day, Labor Day, fall, Halloween, Veteran's Day, and others. Pick a day or a theme and plan a program -- pop songs, children's songs, solos, choir, bells, solo instruments, piano or keyboard, a skit. Have the children draw pictures or make a simple craft to give away. Offer a Scripture passage and a prayer. Sing a familiar hymn or two that others can join in without having to have the words. It may even become an opportunity for a satellite worship service for your congregation.
To do this in the months between February and October is to truly do something special for these folks when most of the other groups who go caroling at Christmas have forgotten them. And doing this between February and October rather than at Christmas means you have lightened the pressured Christmas schedule on your own people, including yourself.
Caroling has always been an important part of the Christmas season, and it will remain so. Perhaps we should look for opportunities for ministry when we can extend that outreach to others throughout the year.