The message was pretty straightforward this weekend, with a bit of an inside look at why God kept dropping bread crumbs in a little village called Bethlehem to see if we’d get the hint. Like David being anointed king there. Or like a “kinsmen-redeemer” rescuing both Naomi and Ruth—a Jew and a Gentile—in Bethlehem and a prophetic reference to Paul’s letter to the Galatians that God has made the two (Jew and Gentile) into one and tore down the wall between us. Or the Jewish prophet Micah dropping the big bombshell: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times".
But I don’t want to blog about that.
After noticing a number of churches in my neck of the woods advertising a “live nativity” (as opposed to a “dead nativity”), I started wondering why we do some of the things we do in churches at Christmas. Have you ever heard of people having a “crisis of faith”? One year I had a “crisis of production”.
One September day in 2000 I was sitting in Chipotles with my wife Anita and said: “I just can’t do another Christmas Eve program again. I’m sick of them. I’m going to cancel it this year.”
She choked on her burrito and said, “You can’t do that!” She looked at me like I had said, “Let’s put the “x” back in xmas.”
I reminded her, “Are you sure? I think I’m the pastor.” I was just tired of The Big Production. And then Anita reminded me of something that changed my life. Over twenty years ago we did our first outreach as a brand new little church of twenty-five people. We gave away a few bags of groceries and Christmas trees in the projects. We were so naïve that we would knock on the doors and ask if there were any poor people there. There were several dynamics happening: it wasn’t just a need being met, but a shift in the way people—mostly estranged from church—saw Christians. Even better yet, not just saw Christians, but saw the Kingdom of God crashing into their world. We were hooked.
Suddenly my wife said, “Why don’t we return to our roots and do an outreach on Christmas Eve?”
I mulled it around for a few minutes, sucking on a Diet Coke. And then I said, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea: why don’t we do an outreach on Christmas Eve?”
She just rolled her eyes, smiled and took another bite of her burrito.
It’s become a tradition for us. Instead of The Big Production on Christmas Eve night, we bought thousands of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and passed them out to people who have to work on Christmas Eve—policemen, firemen, video stores, hospitals, and so on. Even restaurants. Turns out waiters and waitresses in your average Applebee’s love Krispy Kremes.
Last year my family went to an IHOP restaurant where an obviously harried young hostess ringing out a family in front of us said tersely without looking at us, “Sorry. We’re not serving anymore…we’re closing.”
We said, “Good for you! We don’t want your food. We’re actually bringing you some.” We handed her a box with a dozen Krispy Kremes in it and she was stunned. She looked at the box with the little card on it from the Vineyard and then looked up at us and—I’m not making this up—said, “You all are going to make me cry!” and teared up.
I’ll never forget this email: “Last Christmas Eve was a really stressful night at the Starbucks where I work because there were a lot of customers and they wanted their coffee fast—we were really frustrated. In the evening a guy from the Vineyard came in and handed a box of doughnuts to my coworker. She started crying and saying, “You people are so nice!” Several months later in March, she and I stayed for hours at Starbucks after closing just talking about God, and that’s when she decided to give her life to Christ. She started going to the Vineyard with me and she’s been thinking about getting baptized.”
But let’s be honest: it’s not all as simple as saying we’re not going to do a Big Production.
Our Outreach team, Celebration team and Facilities team might not agree with me that it’s not The Big Production. Those folks work a gazillion hours leading up to this night. It looks simple: we do a few Christmas carols, light our candles, sing “Silent Night” and then head into the gym to pick up our mostly pre-scouted locations with maps on each box of dozen (over two thousand of them…and the smell is spectacular). I guess that classifies as a Big Production. D’oh!
And we still put on a full-blown production of a free play (hey, it’s an outreach…) for three nights before all that (only four days after the previous weekend stuff). And pull off the celebrations on the weekend. And then The No Big Production Christmas Eve 8th Annual Doughnut Outreach. And then collapse on Christmas day.
Come to think of it, maybe I’m living in La La Land with my sarcastic jab at the dead nativity.
Would someone do an intervention?