Thursday, December 23, 2010

Liturgical Excesses at Christmas

Christmas is often a night of liturgical excess -- no, not so much incense and ancient ritual but trivial stuff added to the service just because it is neat, its cool, we have the technology, we can make it better than it was....  I see a lot of bulletins from my members (who seem to do a lot of traveling for Christmas since this city is less a home town for them than it is the place where they live for now).  Some of the stuff I read about in these bulletins makes me grimace and sigh.  It is not enough to add the candlelight and turn off the lights to sing Silent Night in German, we have to come up with all sorts and kinds of ways to sentimentalize and trivialize the miracle of the manger and the Incarnation.  From sermons written from the vantage point of an animal in the manger to "litanies" asking for people to be "nicer in the coming year" to children stuck in here and there to give them something to do... and then to top it all off, the liturgy itself is often truncated or omitted to "save time."

I suppose at Christmas I should be a bit more charitable and express a little bit more good will toward my fellow Pastors and parishes but it is hard to let some of these things go by.  Now, don't get me wrong, I turn off the lights and sing Silent Night in German and if all goes well, there is not a dry eye in the house by the end of the stanzas and the organ is but a fading echo into the stillness of the night.  It is just that we try to make the night special and the service "different" on the very night when the thing that makes it special is the news of the Incarnation and how Jesus' coming in flesh prepares us for His return in glory.

I am not the Grinch that stole Christmas but I don't think that Santa has a place in Church on Christmas Eve.  Nor do I think that there is ever a time when we should sing "Jingle Bells" on the holiest of nights.  I just wish that we could make it a rule that on Christmas we ditch the strange and the affected in order to be true to the liturgy, the great carols of the season, and the story of His birth.  When people come back to Church for Christmas services, we owe it to them to put on our best face, and that face is the one in which our personalities fade out and Jesus' coming in flesh is front and center.  The liturgy and the great Christmas hymns and carols do that just fine.  Communion, with it incarnational parallels, is, in my mind, essential to the services for the Nativity of Our Lord.

Well, I guess I have vented enough for today. . .


Dan at Necessary Roughness said...

I've done the Silent Night in German solo myself, but I wonder if we aren't a little off on that message. I can't imagine an angel with a multitude of heavenly host praising God and being silent. :)

Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Larry, look at it this way. At least our churches still celebrate Christmas on Christmas, unlike so many Protestant congregations that move the day to the Sunday before or after because "Christmas is for traveling and seeing families, not for church".

Anonymous said...

"Communion, with it incarnational parallels, is, in my mind, essential to the services for the Nativity of Our Lord."

This is the best statement I have seen about Christmas for quite some time! A few weeks ago I was thinking about Christmas and it just sort of re-occurred to me that Christmas is ultimately sacramental. So much for giving at Christmas. We receive the gifts of God in the Church. What better way is there to celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord than by partaking of the very thing He became? Sadly, many Lutheran churches (thankfully, not all) have thrown away Holy Communion as the way of celebrating Christmas.

If you are so inclined would you offer some advice? The days of which I have the lowest attendance at church is Christmas and Easter, which are seen as the most important festivals in the Church Year even from those outside the church. I cannot remember the last time my church has celebrated Holy Communion on these days. In the past my reasons would have been things like not being able to get a ride, or not enough time. (I am the only regular church-going person in my family.) After having this sort of epiphany of Christmas being a sacramental holiday, I have become uncomfortable with attending when we do not follow our own confession which says that we have not abolished the Mass but we observe it every Lord's Day and important festival. Since there are three services this week (Eve, Day, 1st Sunday after), I have only chosen to attend the third; it is the only service which offers the Sacrament. I am not opposed to the genre of the lessons and carols service, but I can find better elsewhere. They are available online or at non-Lutheran Churches, and those tend to be "better." Am I wrong in deciding this? What do I get at church without communion that I cannot get elsewhere?

Janis Williams said...

Fr. Peters,

Thanks for reminding us that the manger is NOT a clean, warm neo-natal unit!

Thanks also for not 'dumping' the "Stir Up" collects for this holy season. The Episcopalians (and I assume many Anglicans) didn't like them, so they changed them.

Thank you for the 'excessive' communion at Christmas!

Unknown said...

We usually have 7PM Christmas Eve and 9AM Christmas Day, both Holy Communion services. I keep getting pressure to omit our Christmas Day service because "it is not worth the effort" for the few people we get. My snarky response usually is, "Christ does all the effort, tell him." Christmas Day usually gets around 30 people, which I think is great because it seems that a high number of those 30 are visitors or members who have a hard time driving in the dark, etc.

Merry Christmas and thanks again for your excellent blog.