FOR A MOMENT, I wondered whether I had gotten the directions wrong and ended up in a nightclub rather than the big church whose production we had been invited to. It was the only time I have ever walked out of a service midway through, and it was at Christmastime.
I guess I should have picked up a clue this was going to be a bit different when the leader came out at the start wearing a bright red blazer and bow tie. He looked more like a Las Vegas lounge crooner than a pastor. What followed was less a celebration of the Christmas message of God’s Let My People Go plan and more Let My People Go-Go.
I didn’t stomp out in disgust as much as slip away in bafflement. I’m actually all for creativity and originality in communicating the gospel.
In fact, one of my favorite holiday memories is from a church I was part of where the pastoral team came out for the Christmas Eve service dressed as shepherds and holding crooks. Midway through their going-to-the-manger skit, music suddenly started to play and they switched into a soft shoe—or sandal, more accurately—shuffle, using their crooks like canes. It was a hoot: Bethlehem meets Broadway.
What was the difference between the two, you might ask? Fair question. I think it had something to do with context. I didn’t know anyone at the big church; more than anything I felt like it was a performance intended to impress me.
At my church I knew these guys, usually sober and somewhat spiritually intense (one of them was a pretty big cheese in the prophetic ministry world). To see them kicking up their heels in delight at the birth of the Savior was somehow quite charming.
I’m reminded in turn of another old Christmas skit I saw once, many years ago, called “Away with The Manger.” I remember it every time we sing that favorite old carol, “Away in a Manger.”
The piece told how the local newspaper got wind of Jesus’s birth and came to the stable to do a story. More and more people kept wanting to get into the picture, so the photographer kept having to rearrange the group to squeeze everyone in. Eventually he had to move the manger (and Jesus) away to the side entirely, out of the frame. After all, there wasn’t room.
I guess, when it comes down to it, it’s all about focus. As long as the bright lights lead people to Jesus, like that natal star did, let’s have some fun with the message that is “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
Photo by Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916 on Foter.com/CC BY-ND