My two rural churches will open their doors to a good number of visitors this Christmas Eve, if history is any predictor of the future. As our context becomes more and more secular and un-churched, there is a growing challenge for us to convey more than a partial story of the greatest event in history to those who come.
Will Farrell is a creator of comedic (some would say, silly) movies and, I believe, an expert on culture and the funny gaps that exist therein. In Talladega Nights, he portrays an over-the-top version of a southern, NASCAR-driving, out-of-touch, self-absorbed redneck named Ricky Bobby.
Farrell zooms in on the character’s simplistic theological understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done. For Ricky Bobby, Jesus is stuck forever as a baby who exists to answer prayers.
“Dear Lord Baby Jesus, we’d also like to thank You for my wife’s father Chip. We hope that You can use your Baby Jesus powers to heal him and his horrible leg. It smells terrible and the dogs are always bothering with it… .” This is but one example of Ricky’s invocation of his version of Jesus.
Of course, this is an exaggerated characterization. Yet there is some truth in Farrell’s character. If folks don’t know the rest of the story or if they simply prefer to ignore the radical call of Jesus to live and love like Him, then picking the Baby Jesus version becomes attractive.
Here is our challenge as we prepare Christmas services that will serve both faithful folks who come to worship many times a year and those who show up once or twice: share the whole gospel. Sing Christmas carols that include Christ’s incarnational mission to redeem humankind. Speak of creation, fall, promised Messiah, perfect life, obedient death, triumphant resurrection, and coming Kingdom. In a phrase, connect the dots.
It was a wonderful night when the dear Saviour was born. But it wasn’t just a beautiful story in itself. It is part of God’s great story. It is a story of the whole written Word and the Living Word. But most importantly, it is a story that the Triune God continues to invite people to be part of. How unfaithful would we be if people came to see the Baby Jesus and left without knowing that they could know the God of Creation, the Redeeming Saviour and the Holy Spirit now and forever?