At heart, I’m a nostalgic sentimentalist. Growing up, It’s a Wonderful Life was not only my favorite Christmas movie but my favorite movie in general. Seriously. Almost any holiday song by Nat King Cole or Bing Crosby still fills me with childlike wonder, and I’m prone to believe the words of Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Once, in high school, a girl who was interested in a relationship with me told me that she hated Christmas music, and I knew at that very moment that there was no possibility of ever being more than just friends. Yes, I know. I’m a weirdo and that was probably a bit extreme, but you need to understand how much I adored the Christmas holiday for the next sentence to really have an impact. Ready?
I have found something better than Christmas.
That’s right, though I still thoroughly enjoy this time of the year, I have found something that surpasses it. I am talking about the Church; the family of God. While I am well aware that no local church is perfect, I am convinced that when the Church is truly growing in what God has called her to be, there is seriously nothing better on earth.
The very best of Christmas is amplified in Healthy Churches
In the local church, the blessing of a loving family can last all year long. Numerous Christmas songs, such as Faith Hill’s “Where are You Christmas?” and Perry Como’s “I Wish it Could be Christmas Forever,” express a common sentiment: that the love and joy of Christmas would last all year long. Amazingly, I have experienced this come true in the local church, especially in the smaller expressions of our church that we call Missional Communities. When believers in Jesus come together, it should feel like a loving family gathering, not just once or twice a year but on a regular basis.
This doesn’t mean our church community will be absent of disappointment, conflict, or pain, but just like the best aspects of Christmas, our regular gatherings should be a foretaste of a coming day of everlasting joy, healing, and peace on earth.
Our regular gatherings should be a foretaste of a coming day of everlasting joy, healing, and peace on earth.
The local church is the ongoing presence of God on earth. At Christmas time, many still celebrate the birth of Christ. This is wonderful and there’s certainly something special about setting aside time in December to focus on the glorious truth of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, but God has designed a much greater way of demonstrating this reality. God’s primary plan for pointing people to the incarnation of his Son is not a celebration on December 25th but an everyday community. In John 17, we see that our unity (our community life as the church, living in harmony with one another, sacrificially caring for one another, etc.) is how people will know that Jesus indeed came to earth.
God’s primary plan for pointing people to the incarnation of his Son is not a celebration on December 25th but an everyday community.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21
The local church is the very presence of Christ on earth, Jesus made visible to the world. This does not diminish or weaken the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus but signals its reality. As we live missional lives together by the Spirit of Jesus in us, others will ask us for the reason for the hope that is within us, and the only answer that will make any sense at all will be the gospel, that the eternal God became a human being, lived for us, died for us, conquered death on our behalf, sent us his Spirit, and will return one day to make all things new.
Generosity and Gift-giving are norms in healthy Christian communities. The giving of presents, donating to charity, and serving at the local food bank have become typical parts of the Holiday season in our culture. While there’s nothing wrong with having a special time for giving, the call of the community of King Jesus is to demonstrate this spirit of generosity all year long. We do this by employing our gifts, talents, time, and resources in the service of others. Over the years, I’ve been blessed to see this at work in healthy churches in which joyful giving overflows from their hearts in June just as much as in December.
The love in the local church is more than sentimentality. It is possible that the “good feelings” which motivate us to be a little nicer and more generous during the holidays are based on nothing more than a nostalgic connection to the past that puts us in a positive mood. The emotions that come from fond memories are indeed good gifts from God and should not be despised, but they are not sufficient sources of power in a fallen world.
Only the Holy Spirit can produce a love in our hearts that will not fail when coziness and comfort are stripped away, and when those whom we love are taken from us––or even betray us. In this way too, the presence of the Savior in his Church, and the promise of the Savior to his Church, that the gates of Hell will not prevail against us, are superior to the blind optimism that sentimentalists like me can latch onto during the Christmas season.
My prayer for myself and for my brothers and sisters in Christ is that we would grow in each of these areas so that the One whose birth we celebrate on December 25th would be encountered in our cities by every man and woman, and every boy and girl, not just during a particular season or event but on every day of the year.