For most of us there are traditions that form part of our Christmas celebrations. Some of these are family traditions, some are cultural and some are expressions of our Christian faith. Over the years some of these traditions may change, as is happening at the moment with the sending of Christmas Cards. The rise in digital messaging especially for younger generation combined with increasing postage costs means this tradition, that started in 1843, is declining.
I wonder what your traditions are, and have you ever asked yourself why you hold that tradition and whether it is still relevant?
One tradition that I know some at St Paul’s have grown up with is the place of celebrating Christmas at the Midnight Communion Service rather than on Christmas morning. As I look back on my late teens and early twenties I went to both – but I was younger then! For me the main Christmas service has always been on Christmas Morning.
I grew up in a family where the celebration of Jesus’ birthday, with his family, was the main event on Christmas day. Other things, the presents, the food, the family, all came second. I cannot think of or remember a Christmas morning where I didn’t meet with other christians to celebrate on Christmas morning except when physical illness prevented me.
As a personal reflection going to the midnight service and not the Christmas morning service feels like celebrating someone’s birthday the night before to free me to do what I want on their actual birthday.
As I’ve talked to others about Christmas over the years some have said to me that they need to be with their family on Christmas Day, family comes first. Jesus had an interesting take on family in Matthew 12:46-50. So yes, family does come first, but maybe not always my natural family. I also wonder what message we give to our natural family or friends if, on one of the most important Christian festivals of the year, we put them before our celebration of Christmas with our Christian family?
I’ve also been told that cooking the family Christmas dinner means some can’t come to the Christmas morning service. Looking back over more than 50 years I can say that I’ve enjoyed wonderful, tasty, filling (sometimes too filling) and rich traditional christmas dinners every year. And each and every year, firstly with my parents and then with my own family, we’ve always been part of the Christmas celebration with our Christian family on Christmas morning. It is quite possible to cook the turkey and be at a worship service on Christmas morning!
By now I hope you know that I have a passion for mission and sharing the Good News with others. Christmas is an amazing gift that God has given to us for mission. I remember looking round at our two Christmas Eve All Age services last year and remarking how many of the people I recognised from our work with families, our work in Sarisbury Junior School and people we know in our local community. The same is normally true of our Christmas morning service and these services therefore have a very high priority for me missionally.
Looking back to my first December at St Paul’s we had five ‘Christmas’ services that are recorded in the service register. Last year we had eleven and this year we may have twelve. Numbers have increased from 411 in 2003 to 1474 in 2014. On a personal level I am not super-human and therefore have to be careful how much I do, and know when I reach my limit, and I therefore have to prioritise my personal involvement. I thoroughly enjoy leading Christmas services, but as an introvert it is exhausting. Someone recently remarked that I end up ill many years shortly after Christmas. On a personal level the most exhausting of all the services is the midnight communion because I get little sleep and have be up in time to prepare the church building for the service on Christmas morning.
Your traditions, priorities and commitments at Christmas may be different to mine. However I hope this goes some way to explain why I may, or may not, be presiding at the midnight Christmas Eve Communion service.