Last week I watched an interview with the atheist historian and author Tom Holland. He is a fantastic and provocative thinker and a keen observer on the way Christianity interacts with our culture. In one section of the interview, he observed that most Christians – including leaders – don’t seem to realise how extraordinary their faith is. He comments:
“If you’re a Christian you think that the entire fabric of the cosmos was ruptured by this strange singularity where someone who is a god and a man sets everything on its head. To say it’s supernatural is to downplay it. This is a massive singularity at the very heart of things.”
What an amazing explanation of the Christmas story! And from someone who doesn’t believe it! These words have provoked me to consider how, for many Christians, familiarity with the Christian story can breed a loss of enthusiasm (or even boredom) with what is the most extraordinary story of all time. We can become like people who live next door to Niagara Falls and have stopped noticing it. Think of it: as Christians we believe that God has ripped open time and space and entered our world as a human baby. He did this so that by entering into our cosmos he might himself rescue it and set right every wrong. That claim is either crazy, or world changing – but, it should never become boring. This is our Christmas message to the world.
Preparing for Christmas
Our nation shows no sign of losing its enthusiasm for celebrating Christmas. This is very good news for the church! It is a priceless opportunity to share God’s message with the world. If our friends and neighbours who don’t know God can get excited about buying presents, sending cards and preparing a feast, how much more should we get excited about this annual opportunity to share the astonishing Christmas message with them? The population of our town is 14,000. Last year over 2,000 people came to our Christmas services. As an average, that’s 1 in 7. Think of the impact on our communities this year if we made it 1 in 6 by inviting an extra 350 people to come and hear the Christmas message?
Many of you will be familiar with the map below. It is taken from our database and the red dots locate the hundreds of homes of the members of All Saints Marlow. Apologies if you live off the edge of this map – you are just as important as everyone else, but The Bridge isn’t big enough to show a map with everyone on it.
For one hour every week we gather on a Sunday and all these dots converge. But for most of the time our church family looks like this. I believe God has carefully positioned each red dot so that together we can show the love of God to the whole of our community.
Invitations to Christmas
As we make our usual Advent preparations this year, I want to challenge us to share the amazing Christmas story by inviting new people from our everyday lives to come to church this Christmas.
Here are seven ideas for you to try:
1. Next door neighbours – instead of just picking up one of our Christmas Services postcards to go on your fridge, take enough to post one through the letterbox of all your next door neighbours. As you post it, pray for God’s blessing on their home.
2. Personal contact – better still, knock on your neighbour’s door, say you’d like to invite them to come to church this Christmas and ask “is there anything we can pray for you?” – If there is, forward it to email@example.com and our prayer group will join you in praying for them.
3. School invitations – join Matt Clark as he stands at the gates of our local schools, handing out invitations to the Christmas services to hundreds of families. Get in touch – he’d love your company!
4. Your community – who are the people you chat with day by day? Friends in the pub, your book club, fellow dog walkers, office colleagues, sports club friends and so on. Who is on your ‘front line’? Invite them to come to a Christmas service with you and to enjoy a Christmas drink or meal together afterwards.
5. New Neighbours pack – we are developing a ‘New Neighbours’ pack for you to give to anyone who is new to Marlow. It will give them a warm welcome to Marlow and introduce All Saints as their parish church. Look out for them appearing at the back of church and take one to give to a new neighbour.
6. Church Groups – across our church we have well over 50 groups of one kind or another that meet regularly away from Sunday services. What could your group do together to share the Christmas message this year?
7. Social media – our team are working on some great messages to share this Advent. We’ll also be linking into the Church of England’s brilliant national #FollowtheStar campaign. Why not share them with your online community?
Instead of grumbling about mince pies appearing in the shops in October, or about how materialistic Christmas has become, let’s be the most enthusiastic and joyful participants in the Christmas celebrations of 2019. What could bring more joy than the astonishing story of Christmas bringing light and hope into new hearts?
May God’s Spirit lead us this Advent to think about Christmas, prepare for Christmas and invite our friends to join with us as we celebrate the greatest gift of all.
This article, written by Rev Dave Bull, featured in the Advent 2019 edition of The Bridge – the magazine for All Saints’ Church in Marlow. Pick up your free copy in church or download it here.