Why come to church on Christmas Eve…even if you don’t “do church”?

Why come to church on Christmas Eve…even if you don’t “do church”?

What’s on your Christmas season wish list? I’m not talking about your Christmas gift wish list…I’m talking about those events and traditions you’re hoping for this month. Cookie-baking with the kids? Decorating the tree? Watching holiday movies? Christmas caroling with old friends? And maybe there are others too… more in the “feelings and experiences” category… those deep down, often unspoken, almost too-vulnerable-to-name wishes most of us carry around about this time of year… for us personally, for our families, for our world. For some people, going to church on Christmas Eve is already on the list. For some, it’s a possibility, but not a sure thing. For others, no way it’s on the list.

If it’s not something you’re planning on already, I’d like to invite you to the Christmas Eve service here at Winnetka Congregational Church. And not just because I’m the Senior Pastor here and inviting people to church is in my job description. But because I think it could make a difference in your experience of Christmas this year.

For some of you, I know that invitation doesn’t feel easy. Maybe you’ve been hurt by church in the past. Maybe you’re uncertain what you believe, or you feel that you need to be certain before you come. Maybe you grew up in church but haven’t felt welcome in a long time.

I want to be very clear: You are welcome here. You’re welcome here because we are an Open House – open to questions and doubts, to big faith or little faith or no faith at all, with no pressure to change. Whoever you are, whoever you love, however you identify, wherever you are in your heart and mind about the whole God/faith/church thing, no matter how old or how young… you’ll be welcome here. And you won’t be alone.

In case you have doubts… we put it in writing. (Check our inclusivity statement.)

Oh, and by the way, that commitment to Open House inclusivity? It’s also intergenerational. Which is why every Sunday our children and youth are included in worship. They lead us, as much as we lead them. And on Christmas Eve, we no longer have a kid-friendly service and a non-kid friendly one. We just have one service that includes ALL of us, from newborns to centenarians, with all the noise and laughter and complications and wisdom that each and every one of us bring to God’s house.

But why do it? Why get yourself (and possibly your whole family) to church on Christmas Eve when you could just stay home, put another log on the fire, have another heated game of Monopoly, watch another Christmas movie, or do some last-minute shopping?

I want to offer 4 reasons:

1. It isn’t another trip to the mall. It’s no secret that many of us are tired of relentless consumerism. We’re disillusioned with a Christmas season that kicks off with Black Friday sales that now start even weeks before Black Friday. And as great as gift-giving is, so many of us are yearning for Christmas experiences that don’t come with dollar signs. We’re seeking something that means more than just acquiring more.

A Christmas Eve worship service offers that. It gives you an opportunity to do something together with the family without the long checkout lines or stress-induced frown lines. Something free. Yet precious.

2. There’s live music by real people – young and old – and communal singing. I don’t know about you, but over the last two pandemic years I have deeply missed the feeling of participating in live music and singing. Something special happens when we sing together and when the music we’re hearing is live. We’re transported. We go from being a room full of individuals to a choir of neighbors and friends.

This Christmas, I think we NEED to feel, once again, what it feels like to move, to be, and to sing together. We need the reassurance of time-tested carols and the inspiration of fresh songs to take us somewhere special. We need the reminder of how wonderful our togetherness can sound.

3. It can connect us to something bigger. Rituals and traditions help us anchor ourselves in the world. They give us a sense of identity and belonging. And they create lasting memories. When we participate in rituals involving prayer and worship, even if you don’t believe in God, they can still help you connect with a sense of the holy and remember “there’s more here than meets the eye.” They can transport us from our “business as usual, what you see is what you get” kind of day-to-day-ness into a sense of bigness, mystery, and miracle. When we participate in rituals like a Christmas Eve service, it gently pulls back the curtain of what can make our lives feel ordinary, and it reveals the sacredness that lies both within them… and within us.

4. You might reclaim a sense of wonder. When all seems just as it is, when our lives feel more ordinary than special, and when our sense of the sacred (if we have any at all) feels like it’s all “out there”, out beyond us… we lose something. We lose something divine, yes. But equally, something that makes us human. Something that reminds us of the holy love from which we spring, the heaven-on-earth grace that guides us, and the God who dwells both within us and among us. Something stirs our hearts, opens our minds, and makes us… more whole.

It’s possible to rekindle our sense of wonder alone. But it’s never more palpable or connective than when we experience it… together. And there is just something inexplicably special… something you can’t quite capture in words… about how wonder is reborn in a Christmas Eve service.

So, coming to church on Christmas Eve, singing the songs, lighting the candles, participating in this ritual of celebration and hope, remembering a baby born to make the impossible possible, is in a way, an act of courage and faith. It’s a way of saying “I still believe in what I cannot fully understand. I’m making room for the mystery of ‘God with us.’”

I hope, whatever your reasons, you’ll be with us this December 24th at 4 pm. Come at 3:45 for a pre-concert, too, if you like.

You can come with your hurts and your hesitations in hand. You can come and sing at the top of your lungs, or just close your eyes and listen. You can come if you’re already full of wonder, or if you aren’t even sure if you’ve ever really felt it. You can come by yourself or with all the relatives. Just come. Exactly as you are.

By the way, if you’re a little nervous about coming to our sanctuary in light of the pandemic, we understand. And we have good Covid safety measures in place. But you can also join us through our livestream.

And if you can’t join us for Christmas Eve, no worries.

We’re open… open to you, and open to wonder… all year long.

The Rev. Jeff Braun is the Senior Pastor of Winnetka Congregational Church, a progressive, LGBTQ-inclusive, justice-oriented and family-friendly church on the north side of Chicago. His calling is to share God’s word of love as spoken through Jesus, to make sure that everyone knows they have a seat at the table and to help us all recognize our oneness in God and with all God’s children.