Ask any pastor about the Advent and Christmas season and most will tell you that 90 percent of December is tradition. Christmas Eve worship services involve a great deal of planning, preparation and energy, but run on the fumes of history. We know the story – and there are only so many ways we can tell it, which is the challenge of making Christmas fresh and exciting every year. When people come to church in Advent, they know what they are going to get ahead of time: A scoop of John the Baptist, a dash of Mary, a sprinkling of Isaiah and a bowl of infant Jesus.
In fact, there’s nothing new for Christmas. That’s one of the reasons why people will drive through treacherous snow on Christmas Eve. They know what awaits them at the end of the destination and sometimes it includes hot chocolate. They don’t want surprises. Even our C-and-E Christians don’t want a pastor to mess with their Christmas. They want the same Luke reading, the same three carols and they want to hold a flaming candle under threat of melting their eyebrows.
And yet – we are still trying to find the new, trying to create it. We are looking for the new angle to proclaim Christ’s advent. We hope to discover the message that will make the old story relevant for our contemporary world. We want to make old news Good News.
That’s why pastors try to create appealing sermon titles for Christmas like: “The Grinch vs. Jesus” or “The Top Fifty Gifts God Wants to Give You” and “Why You Deserve ‘Em All.”
And yes, I too have explored the outer-reaches of Bethlehem and the far countries of Christmas looking for some new angle.
For years, I have written a Christmas story for the congregations I’ve served. I give every family a copy of the story as my gift on Christmas Eve. This is my way, I think, of trying to see the new in the old – of trying to find Christ beyond the manger.
During the years, I’ve written about bus rides home, about old men searching for meaning and little girls looking for friendship. I’ve written stories about fathers welcoming daughters and daughters helping mothers. And this year I’m writing a humorous, but poignant tale, about a man stuck inside a chimney on Christmas Eve. (Look for it on YouTube – that’s my new medium.)
So if you are searching for a new slant on Christmas, try to wean yourself from the same old traditions. I’m 90 percent sure this will work. That leaves me with a 10 percent certainty that my licorice cake will be more appealing than the gingerbread I usually bake.
Todd Outcalt has preached the same Christmas Eve sermon at Calvary in Brownsburg for the past ten years – and no one has noticed. As for new gifts, his four new books in 2013 include: For the Love of God, Ten Things You Should Know About Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Husband, and a 3rd Edition of Before You Say ‘I Do.’