A few years ago I wrote about how there’s often an equipping effect to missions. Sometimes people are already faithful evangelists who then engage in cross-cultural missions, but at other times a Christian may develop a missional heart in the course of the journey rather than prior to it.
I’d like to encourage a similar posture toward the Christmas season. For some, December brings no discernible difference in their spiritual rhythms. For many in our churches and communities, however, there’s an added umph to Advent. More intentionality. More excitement. More reflection.
What would it look like if we allowed the effects of the holiday season to linger? Let me suggest five equipping and edifying effects Christmas can have.
1. Church Attendance
It’s no secret that in late December some of your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers will attend church for the first time all year. But these aren’t the only people for whom church attendance looks different.
A family with sporadic attendance throughout the year may make sure they show up around Christmas. Church members who haven’t stepped foot in any of your church’s evening services or small groups will come to a Christmas Eve service or a community-group event. Children for whom church has always consisted of age-segregated Sunday school classes or youth-group activities may participate in the larger church gathering for the first time in their lives.
Friends, what blessings and benefits might be yours if you attended your church’s events, classes, and services more regularly? Church member, what if non-attendance at evening services was the exception rather than the norm? Brothers and sisters, what if you were as intentional and committed to church life in January through November as you are in December? Church, what if you were as welcoming and hospitable every week? Pastor, what if you were as bold and clear with the gospel and Christ’s beauty in every sermon?
2. Personal Devotion and Reflection
Many feel they’re supposed to “get something” out of the Christmas season. Assuming we fight through the glitz of the prevailing materialism, we conclude there is something deeper, something richer, something more meaningful about Christmas.
So, we pick up a Bible. We think about Christ’s birth. We journey through Luke. Maybe we read a devotional book or an online article to help us reflect on the incarnation. But we must remember that the riches of God’s Word are there always. If this season creates in us a longing for spiritual truth and supernatural realities, then let’s leverage that desire and fan those flames throughout the rest of the year. The incarnation is indeed an amazing reality, but let’s not miss all the other awe-inspiring, worship-inducing, life-changing concepts that deserve our careful reflection and meditation.
3. Evangelistic Ease and Fervor
I live in a part of the world where gospel witness hasn’t always been allowed and is at times opposed. But even here Christmas is everywhere—in songs, movies, television, and on social media. Decorations cover virtually every place of business.
All this provides a low entry barrier into spiritual conversation. It’s easy to engage a coworker or neighbor about issues of faith, hope, love, joy, or truth when you can begin by simply asking them what they think of Christmas or by highlighting the lyrics of that song playing on a never-ending loop in Starbucks. Such relative ease exists everywhere Christmas is a topic of cultural conversation.
We should see Christmas as a training camp for the rest of the year.
My hope, however, is that this season wouldn’t be an exception but an example. People are people, and I’m willing to bet your acquaintances who are open to talking about spiritual things now would be just as willing at other times of the year. Your humble, earnest, loving forays into spiritual conversation will be no less readily received simply because they aren’t preempted by a reference to a common holiday. Such barriers probably exist more in the mind of the evangelist than in the hearts of the hearers. We should see Christmas as a training camp for the rest of the year.
4. Family Discipleship
My wife and I have four children, and we’ve always employed some sort of activity to bring about focused conversation on the incarnation, mission, and good news each Christmas season. We’re currently doing a Jesse Tree, but we’ve done various Advent calendars and devotionals. They’ve all been beneficial.
Throughout the rest of the year we desire to have a family devotional time regularly, if not daily, in our home. We’ve done well with this in some seasons, and poorly in others. But I feel like I have an unfazed, laser-like focus in December. Even when we’re tired or ill-prepared, one of us musters up the energy to do something to keep the Advent calendar rolling.
And, really, this is all I need to do at other times as well. There’s no reason to not lead my family with consistency all year. The best advice I’ve ever received on the topic of family devotionals is “Do something.” Don’t be legalistic and do give yourself grace, but be sure to do something rather than nothing. I pray that Christmas will remind and encourage us to adopt healthy habits of family discipleship.
5. Hospitality Culture
At Christmas we buy gifts, bake cookies, send cards, extend meal invites, and throw parties. We get to know fellow church members better, and we welcome strangers. We have people over with the clear intention and purposes of extending Christ’s love.
But hospitality ought to be the Christian’s perennial disposition. We ought to, as Paul wrote, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Let’s circle dates in those first 11 months as well. When will we plan a dinner party for a group of coworkers? When will we invite that new couple from church for dinner? When will we randomly bless the widow down the street with a plate of cookies?
If I could issue one challenge this Christmas, it would be this: over these next couple weeks, think carefully about how this season could be training you for something. Let December 2019 intentionality spill over into 2020, rather than sitting dormant for 11 more months.
Let December 2019 intentionality spill over into 2020, rather than sitting dormant for 11 more months.
A plane ticket doesn’t automatically make a missionary. But it might if you let it. In the same way, a singular season of healthy, gospel-centered habits won’t automatically establish a faithful Christian lifestyle. But it will set you on the right trajectory if you let it.
Jason Seville is the senior pastor of an international church in China, where he lives with his wife, Kim, and four daughters.