Happy 2019! I pray you, and those close to you had a happy, holy, rewarding and safe Christmas. My family had the chance to head to Melbourne on Boxing Day for a short break which was fabulous. If you have had the chance for a break, are about to have one or are in the midst of one, I pray that it is a fruitful one.
When you think about it, it is kind of bizarre, the way so much is made of the changing days in the year, which in and of itself is only an arbitrary measure of time. Christmas Day is really only somebody’s best guess on the birth date of Jesus and in all likelihood was a date appropriated from another tradition. New Year’s day is also just a function of the way the western world has decided to order time, yet it has become somewhat ritualistic in the way we celebrate and behave.
When we arrived in Melbourne on Boxing Day, we also witnessed another ritual. On the way to our hotel, the Uber driver pointed out all the cars that were blocking a lane on the motorway for well over a kilometre, as people waited to be let into the parking area of a Factory Outlet shopping centre in the hope of grabbing a Boxing Day bargain. The car park was so full that they were at the point of having to wait for someone to leave before the queue could move forward.
I wonder what people from other cultures make of our crazy rituals? I suspect they would find most of them utterly incomprehensible. This is one of the reasons why I do think it is important for us as church members to explain what we do in church life, and why we do it, especially to those who might be unfamiliar with it.
When you unpack rituals, you may find that some have valid and profound meanings, whereas others are nothing more than formed habits. Regardless of which they may be, they still have the power to help us pause, ponder, reflect, transform and grow.
One of the rituals that has developed in the modern church is that January is a time for everything to slow down and to let the minister have a holiday – and because everyone else is on holidays the church numbers decline until school goes back. This is a ritual, that I have enjoyed in the past in another location, but it is a ritual that has little substance in our context, in our church on the Gold Coast.
Over the last few years, January has been one of our biggest months for church attendance, particularly for new people. Because the Gold Coast is a somewhat transient community, many people are moving into the area at this time, many make new year’s resolutions to connect with God in a deeper way, and many are impacted by Christmas services. This is why we deliberately launch our theme for the year in January to create momentum from the very beginning without slowing down from Christmas. We will do this again on Sunday the 13th.
I would encourage you to develop a new ritual in church life, if you haven’t done so already. That is, to be attentive, aware, and ready to serve in January. Rather than taking a break from coming to church, make an extra effort to get there a bit early. Park a bit further away to free up space in our car park. If you are feeling really brave introduce yourself to someone you may not know. And if you see a way to help, become involved.
We had such an amazing experience of service with the many who helped over the Christmas Services and in the preparation leading up to and following on from them. I pray that we would continue this in the month ahead and that we might be developing a culture of service in our church that goes the extra mile for those who are yet to come and be part of our community.
Advent is a traditional time of readiness but I pray for us we might continue that attitude through the month of January. Let’s get ready to grow! Happy New Year!