Balancing Christmas And Everything Else

I believe that Christmas Eve is, on average, the busiest day of the year for most worship leaders. This is partly based on what I hear my colleagues say, and partly based on the stats for this website, which take a massive one day nose dive every December 24.

And it’s not just Christmas Eve, either. This whole season can become crazy if we let it.

Laura Blankenship on Christmas, craziness, and how to maintain some balance:

December. The month of crazy. At least that’s how it feels to me. My to-do list is never ending, there’s a party every weekend, and the church duties keep piling up. Not to mention my two little ones who are being bombarded by how our society views Christmas while I desperately try to turn their eyes toward Jesus.

The struggle is real. Come January, I feel a great sense of relief mixed with exhaustion. Every year I tell myself it’s going to be better; it’s going to be easier. And somehow it never is.

But not this year. This year I am taking action. Here are some practical steps I am taking to achieve the balance for which I have been longing.

Laura shares four things to help you find the right balance during the Christmas season. Check out the whole post here.

Advent Roundup 4

With Advent almost over and Christmas just around the corner, here are some resources for Advent that you may find helpful in your service planning and personal worship.

Phil Wade shares an excellent, in-depth look at “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is one of my favorite carols and is particularly appropriate to sing in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s an ancient song, originally written in Latin in the eighth century as a seven verse poem, organized into a reverse acrostic which can be translated “I shall be with you tomorrow.” The refrain was added later. Each of the verses we have in our hymnals (usually just five) focus on one of Christ’s names or titles: Emmanuel, Adonai, Rod of Jesse, Dayspring or Morning Star, and Key of David.

Let’s walk through this. Feel free to hum along with me.

Gabriel Statom offers Christ-centered silence as an alternative to noise of the season:

But the massive effort is part of what makes Advent one of my favorite times of year. I aim to enjoy every minute of the special services and wholeheartedly participate in worship…

We all have extra events in December. Whether for work, school, church, or the community, seasonal social opportunities keep us occupied. We assume everyone is “crazy busy.” It’s a noisy season, one of music and cheer.

To enjoy the season to its fullest, then, one of the most significant disciplines we can practice both individually and corporately is “Christ-centered silence.”

Emily Vermilya shares some advice for worship leaders during Advent:

The Christian year is a beautiful tool for helping worship become formational in the lives of believers. This Advent, consider how you might help your congregation engage in the discipline of waiting. Here are a few suggested practices to consider employing in your services in the hope that the celebration of Christmas might be all the richer because time has been spent awaiting and intentionally anticipating Christ…

For those who come from non-liturgical backgrounds, Kevin West explains what Advent is all about:

If you grew up like me, you grew up in a home that did a great job of celebrating the birth of Jesus each year, but without much liturgy. I didn’t grow up in a liturgical church so it should be no surprise that liturgy wasn’t a part of our our celebrations. In fact, I didn’t really know what Advent was until I was a worship pastor at a church and my lead pastor said we should have Advent candles in our services this season. I said, absolutely…then quickly googled “advent candles”.

Since that time I have a better understanding of Advent. For those of you who grew up like me, let me take a moment to give you some basics.

Lauren Chandler on Advent, gifts, and the power of a promise kept:

As worship leaders, Advent gives us the amazing opportunity to help our people look up from the shards of our own broken promises and unfulfilled desires to see the only one who always keeps his promises and fulfills every desire perfectly.

We have the distinct honor of leading the church in acknowledging our own frailty, while pointing to God’s sufficiency. We lift eyes from self to Jesus, who came in humility and will come again in victory to make all things new. In the midst of the season’s hustle and bustle, we are pointing people to him. And it starts with us looking at him ourselves.

Advent Roundup 3

With Advent underway and Christmas just around the corner, here are some resources for Advent that you may find helpful in your service planning and personal worship.

Kaitlyn Hermening shares some thoughts on peace as we continue in Advent:

We worship God from a place of peace. Because my heart is at peace with God, I can approach Him confidently, boldly, assured of His love and care for me.

Does your relationship to God have barriers because you have been affected…scarred, even, from the evil of the world? Rest knowing that we are anchored in Christ; things of this world will affect us but do not deeply shake or destroy us. We mourn over evil, but we also keep pressing on boldly, victoriously, rejoicing in peace!

John Piper reflects on one of my favorite Advent songs, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

This makes the carol especially apt for Advent. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we put ourselves in the shoes of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, and all the pre-Christian saints. We ponder the promises. We strain to see the dawn of salvation. But we know that when it comes, the waiting will not be over.

When Emmanuel arrives — when the Day-spring rises — we learn that redemption has only begun. To be sure, it is a magnificent only. The final blood is shed. The debt is paid. Forgiveness is purchased. God’s wrath is removed. Adoption is secured. The down-payment is in the bank. The first-fruits of harvest are in the barn. The future is sure. The joy is great. But the end is not yet…

Graham Gladstone wrote a great series of Advent readings called “This Is Not How It Should Be”:

One year ago I wrote an article entitled “This is not how it should be.”The basic idea is this: the world, as we know it, is not the way it should be. Violence, conflict and injustice are painfully widespread, and there seems to be no end in sight. Some people are content to say, “that’s just how the world is.” My contention is that from God’s perspective “this is NOT how it should be.”

Jonathan Powers explains why one of the Advent candles is pink:

For those familiar with the liturgical calendar, the four weeks prior to Christmas are known as the season of Advent. A common practice in churches and homes during Advent is the progressive lighting of four candles – one per week, three purple and one pink – as a symbol of expectation for God’s presence on earth. On the first, second, and fourth Sundays in Advent, a purple candle is lit. On the third Sunday, (yes, on the third Sunday), a pink candle is lit.

Lighting a pink candle on the third Sunday in Advent tends to be one of the more ambiguous liturgical practices of the church. Not many people know the purpose or history of the pink candle. Two questions I commonly hear are, “Why is there a pink candle in the midst of three purple candles in the Advent wreath?” and “Why is the pink candle lit on the third Sunday and not the fourth?”

Family Worship At Christmastime

Scott James shares some tips for worshipping as a family during the Christmas season:

Gathering together as a family to spend focused time worshiping God is a wonderful way to center your home on Him. Family worship is a visible reminder to our children that God is worthy of our time, our attention, and our affection. In the hectic ebb and flow of life, it can be difficult for a family to settle in to a sustainable rhythm of regular family worship. The buzz of activity around Christmastime doesn’t do anything to make life easier, but, if you let them, the biblical themes that permeate the holiday season can also serve as a center of gravity that helps pull a family into beautiful habits of worship.

Scott hones in on three things we should do as families to focus our worship on Christ this season. It’s a short post, but one that will give you some good ideas. Check it out here.

Advent Roundup 2

With Advent underway and Christmas just around the corner, here are some resources for Advent that you may find helpful in your service planning and personal worship.

Rob Still shares some thoughts on stillness and the spiritual practices of the Advent season:

Christmas season is a busy time, especially for a church music ministry. There are new seasonal songs to learn, programs to produce, extra rehearsals to attend, plus Christmas Eve and other special events. All of this is in addition to your other life responsibilities.

The pressure-to-perform can be stressful. The sheer volume of “busyness” can deplete your physical energy. You end up feeling overwhelmed, worn out, distracted and even disconnected from God.

Not only is this unhealthy, but it’s antithetical to the reason for the season!

Ideally, the spiritual practices of Advent offer us an opportunity to hit the reset button and receive refreshing from the Lord.

But how do you do that, practically speaking?

JoHannah Reardon lists three ways to simplify Advent for your ministry team:

That meant that I would do extraordinary things, from making sure lonely people in our congregation received a small gift every day during Advent so they would feel loved, to organizing a drama with multiple practices to make sure those in the congregation got the meaning of the holiday. The result was exhaustion for me and those I recruited to help with my frenzy of activity. I also began to dread the holidays and wish they were over before they even began.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to keep what is meaningful while letting go of things that were merely depleting my energy—and everyone else’s energy. Three things helped me do that…

Ryan Shelton lists seven reasons to remember Advent and not rush into Christmas:

I was in my twenties before I was introduced to the tradition of Advent, and it frankly did not have much appeal right away. What was the value of four weeks of longing and expectation? It seems so contradictory to the prevailing atmosphere of festive, cheery glow in the shopping malls.

But I have grown to love Advent. And though it is not a mandated observance in Scripture, there are profitable reasons to consider making Advent part of your holiday rhythm. Here are seven potential benefits of observing Advent.

Joel Klampert on Advent, pain, justice, and anticipation:

Have you ever tried to truly wrap your head around what it might have been like for the jews anticipating the messiah. Can you imagine your whole life being told that a savior was coming who would put an end to all the governments and people groups that reeked havoc on your people. A season of waiting that had gone on for generations must have felt like it would never come…

They waited in uncertainty for a messiah and it must have been easy to doubt. I can imagine that many would have forgotten to care. The sense of urgency was gone and the complacency with whatever life has dealt them sank in.

Then one day God interrupted time…

Heather Caliri reminds us that it’s okay if grief is one of the emotions you wrestle with this season:

I was confused when my first Christmas after I got married made me weep.

My new husband and I were in Ojai, an idyllic small town on the California coast. I’d enjoyed my new in-laws’ gracious hospitality, opened up gifts on Christmas Eve, and now, waited to go to the midnight Christmas jazz service my musician father-in-law led.

But instead of chatting with everyone, I snuck off to the spare bedroom. I told myself I just wanted to be alone for a minute.

However, when I got into the bedroom and shut the door, I started to weep.

It’s unsettling to sob when you’re not sure what you’re sad about. I wracked my brain for a reason…

Leaning Into Lament At Advent

From Lenora Rand, a reminder that Advent is a time of waiting and lamentation, but also hope:

During the weeks before Christmas, when we’re all frantically trying to have a season that’s merry and bright in the midst of events where innocent people are attacked in Beirut and Bagdad and Paris, and children are being regularly kidnapped as sex slaves, when people are starving, economic injustice is ignored, racism’s running rampant, and refugees aren’t being welcomed, when we’re lonely and overworked, feeling powerless and frightened, and desperately longing for more hope, joy, peace and love in this world, we are Advent people, whether we know it or not.

And we need Advent songs that help us believe Jesus’ coming means that things will not always be this broken, songs that remind us to wait. And hope. To lament, but not give up on love. And to be a part of God’s redeeming work on this earth.

The article also lists quite a few songs and hymns for Advent, including some lesser-known ones. Check it out here.