Well folks, another Christmas is in the books!
Christmas 2K16 is officially behind us. The eggnog has been consumed. Gifts gifted. Food coma endured. And for those brave souls who took on a real tree this year, its pine needles are officially all over the floor and will be mysteriously appearing in random crevices for the next 4 months.
Ever since I was of “appropriate age,” my family has always gone to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is one of my favorite memories and traditions. The caroling at 11pm. The candles. The trumpets. For the past, say, 15+ years, we have been going, and every year, we’d always get there right at 11:00, throwing elbows, and staking out our pew, as it is always standing room only. And don’t even bother coming at 11:15…because there will be no parking and you’re guaranteed to be standing – two deep – in the back.
But over the past couple years, I’ve noticed that each Christmas, we don’t have to arrive quite as early. And the full-court-press/box-out/battle-to-the-death to get and save a pew has ever so gradually deescalated.
Until this year.
When the church was half empty.
For Midnight Mass. Christmas Eve.
There wasn’t a snow storm. The zombie apocalypse hasn’t happened….unless of course, I am terribly mistaken about that one..
And I couldn’t help but ask myself, as I looked around and saw several dozen teenage boys counting the ceiling tiles, looking as though they wanted to die…is our faith on life support?
Are we experiencing the decline of faith and church as we know it?
Is Christianity dead?
And that friends, is not the type of thought pattern you want to be mulling over while in church, literally celebrating the birth of Christ.
As with everything in life, looking in the mirror is a hard thing to do. Facing the truth, acknowledging and accepting it…is an exercise in extreme humility, to say the least.
But let’s call it how it is…we are experiencing a decline in Christianity. Look it up. Pew studies. People identifying as Christian. Church attendance. Prayer. Christians actively living their faith are going down. Especially in Gen X’ers and Millennials.
And that. Is scary.
Leafing through the church bulletin after mass, I was almost in a fog. Nevermind the fact that it was nearing 2am and I had just come off a 7am flight from NYC the day before…but my mind was just swirling after witnessing the stagnant, lifeless state of my once vibrant and spiritually ablaze childhood parish. So I was numbly flipping through the pages.
And there was something that caught my eye.
There was, of course, a big “welcome” section in the front. Offering Christmas greetings to parishioners, out-of-towners, guests, non-Christians joining us, etc. All nice. Great.
And then there was the line, “We are your church family and are here for you!”
And I hate to admit this, but I’ve got to be honest….that really rubbed me the wrong way. It felt painfully disingenuous.
There’s a stereotype about “church people.” And I for one, hate even giving the time of day to negative stereotypes about people. Because they’re always hurtful and typically untrue.
But desperate times…
There is a decline in our faith, and it’s time to not mince words and take a cold, hard look in the mirror. Because like it or not, we are the face of the church.
But the stereotype is that “church people” are incredibly “judgey” people. That they prance around all hoity-toity and look down on “non-church people” and scoff at their “heathen ways.”
How are we going to fix that?
Because I can attest to the fact that that stereotype is, for the most part, false.
But the commonly accepted (albeit misconceived) notion is that church is a boring, out-of-touch institution that is full of either judgy snobs, dowdy/orthopedic-shoe-wearing shut-ins, or “Jesus-freaks.”
And people don’t want anything to do with that.
So they just don’t come.
And I want to pause here for a second. I know this is only one factor. There are a lot of other issues – people having different priorities, having other interests, adopting “spirituality” while leaving behind “religion.” Not to mention the church’s often unpopular stances on hot button social issues, such as abortion and the sanctity of marriage, etc. This stereotype is only one contributing factor.
But you and I…we have a personal responsibility.
We have a job to do: and that is to change that stereotype. Turn people’s minds around. Change their hearts to be open to Christ and open to faith.
Is Christianity dead?
Only if we let it.
You can’t give away what you don’t personally have.
And if I want to share Christ’s love and have it be attractive and inviting to another person, I need to have it in my heart myself. I need to have His love be overflowing in my own life, so as to attract another person to Him. And attract them back to church.
The pathetic church attendance on Christmas Eve…I partially blame myself. Because I ask myself…how am I personally fighting to set the record straight on how a “church person” looks and acts.
Because I’m going to be honest…(and I hate to admit it)…but I don’t really wear my faith outspokenly on my sleeve, for fear of being labeled a “church person.”
And I am filled with such shame typing that out, but it’s true. I don’t want to be labeled as “weird” or “out of touch” … so I keep my faith private. Let that be a personal part of my life that is between me and God.
But I realize now, that I am part of the problem.
My faith can’t be hidden. I can’t just be a silent by-stander as my church is red lining, in desperate need of rebranding and resuscitation.
I’m going to go out on a limb. For God. Invite someone to church with me.
Because at the end of the day, if Jesus can stretch out His arms and die on a limb for me, I can go out on one, for Him.
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