It was just one week ago that I wrote that I would be keeping Christmas. Despite all its pagan origins and the obvious fact that Jesus couldn’t have been born “on a bleak midwinter’s night” because the sheep would have frozen, I decided that there was merit in pondering the birth of Christ and the love that it took for God to give up his only Son in order to ransom you and me.
I was actually feeling good at resolving this hotly debated issue—to celebrate or not celebrate. (That was the question…last week, which you can read here, in case you missed my post.)
So having come to this place of resolution, I decided to go to church on Christmas eve. I thought that church would be a place to hear some familiar carols about Jesus and it might provide the opportunity for quiet reflection. Boy, was I wrong, or maybe I just chose the wrong church to go to.
So I tried a fairly new church, one where a few people I know attend. After shiny Christmas ladies greeted me at the door, I entered a darkened room where people hustled for a seat. After I found a seat in the safe zone (translation: in the back so there would be a way of escape), I began to notice the surroundings. There was a well-lit stage with bold graphics telling about the church; there were red lights illuminating the chandeliers and finally, there was smoke giving the room a night-club feel. (I’m not sure how smoke fits in with baby Jesus, but someone obviously thought it was important.) The air was filled with the sound of Christmas carols playing over the sound system; in fact, the music was so loud that even baby Jesus couldn’t have slept as He laid down his sweet head. As I was absorbing all of this, I suddenly realized that instead of playing carols about the birth of the Messiah, the church was playing a familiar Bing Crosby Christmas song: “It’s the hap-happiest time of the year.” Really? Bing Crosby…in church? I have nothing against Bing Crosby, but why did Jesus get bumped by Bing Crosby on Christmas eve? And don’t even get me started about how untrue this song is. Rather than being the hap-happiest time of the year, the holidays are the worst and loneliest time for many, many people.
Eventually, after endless loops of Bing, the song ended and another one started. The singer? More Bing Crosby. Soon an announcement blared urging everyone to find his or her seat because the service would soon start. As the clock counted down the final seconds, and Bing faded away, the band members made their way on stage and the concert, I mean, the service began. That’s when things went from really loud to rock concert loud. In fact, the band was so loud that I couldn’t understand the words of the lead singer, I mean, worship leader. I noticed that not many people were singing. After three or four songs, the concert, I mean, the singing was over. The band left the stage except for one young man who moved to the keyboard where he played long sustained pedal tones as the pastor came on stage. As the pastor greeted the audience and began his teaching, the pedal tones continued, leaving me distracted. Gratefully, after the pastor’s prayer, the pedal tones stopped, resolving my dilemma. The pastor talked about the birth of Christ, correctly noting that rather than three wise men, there were probably more like thirty, and they visited Jesus when he was a child, not a baby. The pastor’s sermon lasted for more than thirty minutes, which was at least twice the length of my attention span, given the amount of sensory overload I had just experienced. Eventually pedal tone boy came out again and began to play as the pastor wrapped up his message. During the pastor’s final prayer, the Lord finally made a way of escape. Having not found the quiet my heart yearned for, I walked out into the quiet mid winter’s night and went home.
I am left to wonder at what has gone wrong in a church that would exchange the beauty of the Christ child for the glitz and glamor of lights, smoke and Bing Crosby. This is one Christmas experience that I will not be keeping next year.
GENEVA CHINNOCK is a writer and author of Becoming His Beloved: Journey into the Father’s Affection. Geneva has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master in Business Administration. In her spare time, Geneva loves reading, eating bacon and attending live theater. She lives in Southern California with her husband and blogs about matters of faith at TreasuredbyGod.com.