What’s on your festive playlist this year? I’m not talking about your choir sheet, Spotify favourites or your CD of choice – be they traditional carols or something rather more outside the box! But, what are the lyrics you’ve got going round your mind as you enter this Christmas season? What themes are you playing to yourself on repeat and what tone are you setting for those around?
Many of us will be feeling a little “bleak midwinter” – after all, this Christmas is not as we hoped it would be. Christmas services, family gatherings and other things we hold dear just can’t happen in the way we would love them to in the coming weeks. And that hurts.
Others of us will be more “12 days of Christmas” – taking a deep breath and preparing to give a huge amount, conscious we’re going to end up gasping for air at the end. Much as there is a great deal to celebrate in the creative ways churches are going to be holding out words of life in the coming weeks, a Covid Christmas is almost inevitably going to be more exhausting than other year – and Christmas is rarely a restful time!
Still others might be more “Ding Dong Merrily on High” that is, entering into this season with zeal but not a clue how to avoid losing your rhythm and pitch. These are confusing times to be sure.
If any of that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Whether you’re busy cancelling gospel events or masterminding your first drive-in carol service in the local car park. Whether you’re looking forward to taking Christmas communion to the vulnerable or having to content yourself with hand-written notes. Whether you’re going to be feasting together or putting together a rota for meals to be dropped to those in need. Whether your kids’ work is being done in a field or an advent trail around the streets. Whether your Christmas is going to be in person, on YouTube, Zoom or streamed on Facebook Live it’s inevitable that, this year, some of the lyrics going round our minds will be laments. Things are sad. Things are confusing. They are, for many leaders and members, deeply, relentlessly exhausting.
How important, then, that we attune our ears to the lyrics that hold true every year: Mary’s Song of Luke chapter 1; the angels’ words of Luke chapter 2, the confident assertions of Simeon and Anna just a few verses on. There we see themes worth turning over in our minds. There we find reasons for confidence and praise. There we find fuel to spur others on too.
A better playlist
Christmas is not an event that needs managing but an incarnation that changes everything. In Jesus, we see evidence of God’s faithfulness as he is merciful to his people. In him, we have hope of redemption – no other can offer salvation certain and sure. In his coming, we have light shining in this dark world. We have reasons to praise and confidently join in with the hosts in proclaiming “glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14). And those words hold true not just in years and places of ease but in war, in persecution, in famine, in flood and yes, in pandemics too.
Of course, we already know that. But are we singing it to ourselves – and to others who struggle? Are we letting those truths so firmly root in our hearts that they are what come out of our mouths most frequently, not the frustration and despair? Are we listening to them so regularly that we can’t help but be comforted by the wonderful truths they convey and keen to spur on others? Are those incredible words, so embedded in our consciousness – like a catchy song that just won’t shift – that we are willing to change everything we have enjoyed in church life and rejoice in new ways of doing things simply so others can sing along too?
I’m not asking you to be stoic. It’s ok to say things are sad and hard. But let me invite you to see the bad through the beauty of God’s eternal redemptive plans. And let your songs of praise spur you, and those around you, to a different – but no less gospel-centred – Christmas. One that can still bear much fruit.