It’s Christmas Eve! You have your traditions and practices. There are moments that must take place, or the community will rise up in indignation! Well, maybe not, but you know that there are expectations for this service. The worship team may have a desire to create something new, but it isn’t necessary. Maybe there is space for a new element to be inserted here or there, but for the most part, people want the familiar; people are coming for the tradition. So, let there be tradition.
This year, of course, will be different from the norm because Christmas Eve falls on Saturday, and tomorrow is another time for worship. That will cast the whole event in a different light, no doubt. So, maybe this year is time for something new. Perhaps you could create a two-part worship event; one begins today, and the other continues tomorrow during worship time. Stay tuned for more. Maybe tonight you set the scene, tell of the birth, conclude the service with lighting your candles and singing “Silent Night,” and then invite folks to leave quietly to let baby and mother sleep after such an exhausting ordeal before gathering again in the morning to sing “Joy to the World.”
That doesn’t mean that this service is incomplete (see notes on Christmas Day for more discussion), except that every worship experience is incomplete—or rather unfinished, open-ended. The benediction does not conclude worship until we gather again next time; it announces a transition from gathered worship to sent-out worship. Worship continues, always continues, as we live and work and love and serve each day. But the gospel is proclaimed, the word is given, Emmanuel, God is with us. Hallelujah amen.
Maybe we tell the story before, the announcement, the acceptance, the faithfulness and the journey, the struggle to find a place in a busy and distracted world. We walk with Mary and Joseph as they seek to be faithful to God and be the space through which God comes. We listen to the angel song and gather with the shepherds who come from the fields to worship this child. We acknowledge the boundary-less nature of this proclamation, as the magi, foreigners from strange lands, also come and gift the child and worship him (or maybe we save that story for Epiphany). We sing the songs we love to sing, the ones that live deep in our hearts and souls and speak of this night and this event like nothing else.
In addition to caring for the hopes and expectations of the worshiping community, space must also be made for the occasional guest, the ones unfamiliar with your habits and practice and yet are responding to something deep within themselves to take the risk of showing up on this night. How will you welcome so as to include and to gather in rather than allow them to feel like outsiders? Who will be on alert to seek out and then partner with those who already feel out of place, so that they know they are family too? What instructions will you give during worship – even covering the things you are certain “everybody knows” – so that they can feel comfortable in their unknowing? And how will joy guide the order of worship, even if quiet and contemplative? Finally, how will you invite all comers to return the next day for the rest of the story?
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.