“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” William Arthur Ward
Christmas is a unique time of year for the church. For a two week period we become socially acceptable to the masses (and it is great to see you all).
We have welcomed many new faces to our various Christmas events such as our Sunday School nativity and our first ever Christmas Eve Carol service.
But to really harness this festive cultural shift (the wind) we had to adjust the sails and think outside of the box!
Around the corner from Noddfa we have the much loved “Big Arch”. It is a listed building constructed in 1879 to assist the British Ironworks close by. Throughout the year the Big Arch plays home to unwanted fridge freezers, but with help from our local Councillors, a brass band, Melin Homes and many other volunteers, we managed to make it hospitable enough to welcome 500 from the community. We prayed at the beginning and at the end of the service, I then proclaimed the Gospel through various anecdotes between the carols, hoping that people will go away with at least something to think about over Christmas.
It has been wonderful to meet so many from the community over the festivities and I pray from the depths of my soul that we will see them all again at Noddfa throughout 2017.
Free Press December 2016
There are several arguments as to why more people come to church over Christmas, most are based in tradition but I think the reason for our seasonal growth goes deeper than this.
The answer (as always) can be found in scripture.
Just after the nativity scene in Luke 2 the “baby Jesus” was brought to the temple where a righteous and devout man called Simeon met the young family.
“Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Luke 2:34-35)
These are strong words! Especially when you consider he is saying these things about a newborn baby, to a young mother.
As we know Simeon’s prophecy was proven to be accurate. Thirty years after our reading Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6. To be the Christian’s loving saviour, Jesus must then also be a stumbling block for those who reject Him. The salvation offered to all, causes many to fall.
At Christmas, we remember God as a baby, the miracle of the incarnation! As a baby God is perceived as cute, cuddly and can be held as He was by Simeon.
As a baby (I argue) God is not seen to be a threat to the lifestyles of our seasonal visitors and is thus believed to be more akin to the god of their choosing, so they are happier to return to church to hear all about “him”. But when the church begins to preach the harsh truths (that Simeon shares with Mary) of what this baby came to do, people grow uncomfortable and then distance themselves from the church once again.
We see this same pattern every year and it is evident of what we know to be true. That when we meet Jesus (the word made flesh) through the word preached, His perfection reveals to us our own failures and our own guilt before our loving God. Such conviction pierces our souls and drives us to change.
People do not like change, especially if it undermines their current worldly lifestyles and privileges. It is this conviction to change that drives people away. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many”.
People do not like to hear that they cannot come to God on their own ‘pic and mix’ terms, but on His terms as revealed to us in the Bible, the terms of the Cross – the sign that will be spoken against. So the masses fall away again and follow the materialist gods of the world that do not question their lifestyle but keep them consuming…until we meet them again next year when God is once again presented as a helpless babe.
This phenomenon is nothing new, Jesus Himself faced it. When He met the physical needs of the masses, thousands followed for a free meal (Matthew 14:13-21), but when He challenged their Spiritual condition and asked them to live a godly life, they all fled (Matthew 15:9).
When Christ fulfilled what He came to do; take the punishment His faithful deserve for our failures (sins) on the Cross (the sign that will be spoken against), He was left with just a penitent thief suffering next to Him, His mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and the Disciple that He loved. The rest of His followers had left Him for dead, or had gone into hiding.
As numbers inevitably dwindle post-Christmas we can take solace that the world has not changed since Christ’s death and resurrection. People still have to deal with the same ailments presented in the Bible (hate, greed, lust, pride etc) and they still reject the cure – Jesus Christ.
Please pray that the seeds sown over our Christmas outreach will bring more into Noddfa to hear the sound of the Gospel and know the Love of God. Let them see that church is not just a great opportunity to meet new people, learn and love, but an act of direct rebellion against a world that defines you by what you consume and produce.
Pray that those touched by the Gospel in recent weeks will come to rest in the Love of God who looks beyond the worlds labels and desires your heart this season.