Nothing should surprise us anymore about the year 2020! This is a year like none we have ever experienced. The pandemic has challenged each of us in so many ways and every special event and occasion has been altered, adjusted and done differently from the ways we would have celebrated them in the past. We still have a few months with some important holidays coming up whose traditions likely need to be reconsidered. In 2020 it should not be surprising if everyone does stay “home” for Christmas, but I wonder what we have learned from previous experiences this year that can guide us into new ways of thinking and living out different traditions of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Like any other time of great loss or change in our lives, it seems appropriate to approach these holidays in different ways when we make new traditions to help us celebrate and move forward in this unique season.
I hope we have learned that our God walks with us through every challenge we face. If there is ever a time to celebrate Emmanuel – God with us – it is this year, when our need for the presence of God has been more evident than ever before and the signs of God’s presence in our midst have shown up in amazing ways. So, it is important that we celebrate Emmanuel, but this year we may have to think differently about the ways we do that.
The beautiful and surprising thing is the way everyone has cooperated and worked together throughout this year to make new opportunities possible for gathering in Worship, Bible Studies and Small Group ministries as well as celebrating birthdays, graduations, weddings and other significant life events. Online gatherings have blessed many in our church communities and have become the opportunity to spread the gospel beyond the walls of our churches far and wide! Our capacity for creativity and innovation has been stretched, strengthened and multiplied. Yes, there is a lot of fatigue with all these challenges, changes and new ways of doing things, but there is also a whole new set of gifts and ideas for how to be community in Christ with one another.
At our September Synod Council Meeting Pastor James Henricks (Summer Memorial Lutheran Church, Newberry) shared a story which I had never heard before, about the beloved Christmas hymn, Silent Night, which drives home the point that innovation and creativity are gifts that flow from God’s grace. As the story goes, it was Christmas Eve of 1818, and the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria had an organ badly in need of tuning due to damage from a recent flood. The congregation had a young priest who waited until the last minute to take a poem he had written to the church’s organist. He wanted help to set this to music for his guitar (so he could play on that instead of the damaged organ). They put together a quick melody, and at the midnight mass that Christmas Eve, a congregation sang the hymn Silent Night for the first time, accompanied by their priest on guitar.
Can you imagine Christmas eve in worship without that hymn? Around the world it has become a beloved favorite! A last minute plan that came into being because of a flood-damaged organ. A beautiful gift that came out of a terrible situation. Pastor Henricks shared in his devotion, “I doubt anyone in that congregation thought to themselves that their organ damage was a good thing to happen. I can only imagine there were unhappy congregants who were upset that they couldn’t sing the usual hymns on the usual instrument, and they might have even been upset at this young pastor because now they had to sing this unfamiliar hymn!” This hymn is a gift of creative grace that came from a time of adversity and was born to touch the lives of Christians for generations, and to think that under other circumstances it may have never been sung or heard.
It makes me wonder, what are the creative means and ways that we will share the Grace of God as we move through the Advent and Christmas seasons? How will these important celebrations in the months ahead bring joy to the world and peace on earth. What will our witness be, and how will it be made manifest to the world? What creative means will we use to proclaim the coming and presence of Jesus? Included with this article are a number of ideas for consideration as alternative Advent and Christmas celebration moments. Perhaps you have already been preparing for alternative celebrations too. I welcome your emails to share how you will gather and proclaim the good news, that Jesus Christ is born to be with us always
Together in Ministry,
Bishop Ginny Aebischer.
Some Creative Ideas for Advent and Christmas to help us think differently for this season.
- Instead of the sanctuary, encourage Families to help decorate different sections of
the parking lot and the church property with lights.
- Do a “drive through” scenes from the Nativity
- Go caroling in the church neighborhood. Wear masks.
- Have a Christmas or Epiphany bonfire.
- Create an at home Lessons and Carols resource for families. Encourage different
families to share recordings of Scripture readings and singing.
- Worshipping indoors can be a challenge so move it all outdoors, but don’t attempt
to recreate your standard Christmas Eve service of worship. Do something different.
- Create a 3:00 p.m. Manger Scene with people semi-costumed. Tell the Christmas
- Create Stations of the Nativity, similar to a Stations of the Cross. You can do this
on your church property, or maybe even a walk through your neighborhood.
- Share Video reflections on the meaning and wonder of Christmas; stories by
members of your congregation, even stories of old and new traditions.
- Google ‘Stations of the Nativity’, you will find more resources than you know
what to do. Get people in a community involved who have artistic gifts. They could be invited to draw their interpretations
of various events from the holy story. Perhaps you could have a gallery walk through of people’s artwork. Remember about proper ventilation, spacing, and masks – maybe even have people sign up for appointment times. You could play pre-record Christmas music as people walk through the church witnessing the Stations of the Nativity.
- Children’s Christmas program for Advent — record talent show of kids