I know you’re all probably gearing up for your church Christmas programmes. You’re no doubt thinking about how to make the best opportunity of your carol service. Maybe you’re considering a nativity. Perhaps you’re thinking of other ways you might be able to spread glad tidings of great joy where you can.
And I appreciate, in most UK churches, Christmas is just an open goal. If nominal Christian traditionalists want to find a carol service to get their jingle bells on, you’ll gladly provide it along with some proper gospel content. And, if I were you, I’d do the same. If there are some non-Christians who just love a bit of tradition, we’ll throw a bit of tradition at them and pepper it with the gospel. It’s just the obvious thing to do.
But in our area, it’s not the open goal it might be for most others. Our area is predominantly South Asian Muslim. Whilst we might get one or two Muslims who are curious about just what on earth we do at Christmas, there aren’t many Pakistani or Bangladeshi Muslim people who will be wandering into our building for a bit of Christmas cheer. Let’s be honest, to quote Citizen Khan, ‘Father Christmas is Pakistani. Think about it: he has big bushy beard, travels half way around the world to get here and he works on Christmas Day!’
What is more, the majority of our church are not English. For many of them, Christmas is an anomaly. They didn’t grow up with it and it is a bit meaningless to them. It amounts to just another day. Our Iranians seem to feel towards Christmas pretty much the same we do when they get all giddy about Nowruz. For them, it’s just another day that we get excited about and eat a load of food that doesn’t particularly interest them. Given half our church don’t see Christmas as a big deal (as far as festivities and whatnot are concerned) there’s not a vast amount of benefit to be had in majoring on it.
The last few years have shown me – fairly conclusively – that we don’t get a lot of external interest when we try and bill Christmas stuff happening. We don’t even get particularly great interest internally. So it doesn’t produce the obvious gospel benefits that seem a given everywhere else and doesn’t really do a vast amount for the fellowship within the church either. So, for us, Christmas just isn’t anything we worry about majoring on in our formal meetings.
But there is one reason why we will try and do something. It’s not because people in the church would be upset if we didn’t and it’s not because we reckon we’ll get hordes of visitors desperate discover the real meaning of Christmas. But there is one reason we will definitely meet on Christmas Day and we will hold a carol service and invite people from outside in (even if we’re not sold on the liklihood of them coming in).
Whether people come into the church building or not, our community see what we do. And what we do definitely communicates something. For us, we have to think carefully about what we communicate to our Muslim neighbours about the birth of Christ.
Just imagine, Christmas Day rolls round and we are nowhere to be seen. Our building is locked, the lights are off, nobody is home. The Christ we claim to love has come into the world and we are seemingly not all that bothered. Whatever our Muslim neighbours think about Christmas, most of them know – like most unbelievers – that it is the festival celebrating the coming into the world of Jesus. And they know that we claim to love Jesus. What do you think our doing nothing communicates to our neighbours about that?
Just this past Sunday, as we were in church, we endured the noise of Mawlid. Our Muslim friends and neighbours paraded down our main street, right outside our church building, and made a load of noise to celebrate the birth of Mohammad. They made banners and floats, sang songs, and announced to the world that they were celebrating the birth of their founder.
Think of that, then think of our building locked, lights off, nobody inside on Christmas Day.
For that reason, even though we know we are unlikely to see many of our Muslim friends in the church, we will do something at Christmas. We will invite them to a carol service. We will pray that one or two of them might even come. If they do, they will hear a celebration of Christ coming into the world and a clear gospel presentation about why that matters. And on Christmas Day, we will be open, singing praises to God and giving thanks for the coming of Christ. Not because we think loads of Muslims will come in but because we want them to be clear that we think Jesus coming into the world is the most vitally important event in human history.
So, we’re not going to go nuts at Christmas. The gospel opportunity really isn’t that great in Glodwick. But what we communicate to our friends and neighbours by celebrating the coming of Jesus matters. So we will celebrate, we will invite them in – both in the hope they might come and so they know what we’re doing – so that Christ might be glorified, even in a small way.