How can we, as GCI congregations and fellowship groups best share the joy of the Lord during this season?
By Bob Regazzoli, Pastor, Australia
Over the next two months we will be hearing one of the most popular Christmas carols, “Joy to the World,” being played time and time again and we will also enjoy singing it in our services. It’s a beautiful song, rich in meaning, and it truly encompasses the good news of Jesus Christ, and how he came as the Saviour of the world.
The Christmas season is a time of great joy and presents numerous opportunities for Christians to share the joy of the Lord with the world. In these troubled times, the world is crying out for good news. What this season presents is expressed so well in the lyrics of “O Holy Night”: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” Jesus is truly our hope and joy.
During the time of Nehemiah, there was a reading of the Torah by Ezra to the people, reminding them of their covenant with God. Initially there was weeping by the people as they heard the words read to them, but Nehemiah gave them this direction: “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
This occurred during the old covenant period as the Israelites were drawn back to God who loved them. Now, Jesus, the New Covenant, has come in among us, and how much greater is the reason for us to rejoice, to enjoy the meals, and to share with others. True joy, the joy which comes from God, strengthens our souls, and lifts our spirits. God has come in the flesh – Emmanuel, with the birth of Jesus – Incarnation, the Saviour of the world – Messiah. There is much to celebrate.
When Mary came to visit her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s baby leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44). When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, he told the shepherds to not be afraid. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Messiah the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). This was truly joy to and for all the world. Joy is not just announced, but the heavenly host burst forth in exuberant praise and song (Luke 2:13-14).
How can we, as GCI congregations and fellowship groups, best share the joy of the Lord during this season? There are many possibilities which need to be tailored to the culture we are living in and the circumstances and resources of the local congregations.
In most societies, Christmas is, above all, a day that focuses on family get-togethers, taking advantage of the widely observed public holiday. As followers of Christ, this should be important to us as well. What better way to celebrate Christ, than to celebrate with children, grandchildren, and extended family members. This brings up a challenge to planning a special Christmas worship service, especially in 2022, when Christmas falls on a Sunday. Many congregations will choose to not have worship services on Christmas morning, and that’s understandable. Some might choose to have an early morning service, giving family time to be together the rest of the day.
But there are numerous other options to consider in serving the community and our members.
- Have a Christmas Eve worship service – including a candlelight service.
- Have a Christmas pageant/service the Sunday prior to Christmas.
- Have a special Christmas service on Friday night enabling families to be together on both Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
- If your group is small, go together to a larger congregation and enjoy their Christmas Eve or Christmas service.
It is not necessary to limit your Christmas service to Christmas day. Many of our congregations focus on the Sunday preceding Christmas Day, making this a special service with the telling of the Christmas story, and singing well-known carols and hymns. The season brings out the creativity of our members, who shine as they put together a beautiful and inspiring service, including selected readings, songs and pageantry. While they seek to involve as many in the congregation as possible, a special emphasis is put on involving parents and their children. This Christmas service is always followed with special refreshments and fellowship.
2022 will be our second year to host a Community Carols Evening two weeks before Christmas. Last year it proved to be an excellent way to involve others from the surrounding community in the singing of carols and seasonal songs, accompanied by refreshments. We engaged a local choral group to join our own members and musicians in providing the music. We also collected donations for helping children in care and crisis.
Another important opportunity in celebrating the joy of this Christ event is through sharing our meals on Christmas day, not only with family members and friends, but, where possible, with those who otherwise would be alone that day. These meals and the hospitality shown can mean much to those who are often alone on these special days; and the occasion of warmth and acceptance can open up opportunities to discuss the meaning of the season and to share our faith.
The Christmas season, as with other seasons of the year, has been highly commercialized, which naturally detracts from and often ignores the celebration of the birth of Jesus. But we have the opportunity within our neighbourhoods and congregations to share the true meaning of the birth of our Saviour, through friendship and hospitality, and by offering the beauty of singing leading to jubilant worship. The joy and the vitality a special worship service produces is an attractive and a powerful witness to the world. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).