Question: "Several of my friends have been surprised to hear that our churches don't have any special services and events related to Christmas and Advent. How can I respond to this surprise? Is there a way that our churches can/should acknowledge and celebrate Christmas?"
RESPONSE 1: John Biggs
I so appreciate and admire the love for your friends, which you're expressing here! Your desire to share our church's love for Christmas is really the Christmas spirit, expressed. In fact, you can assure your friends of your daily devotion to everything they love about Christmas! Far from just a pat answer, don't we truly celebrate Christmas at every church service, and doesn’t a love for Christ fill your heart every time?
In The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, Mary Baker Eddy shared a few of her thoughts about Christmas: "I celebrate Christmas with my soul, my spiritual sense, and so commemorate the entrance into human understanding of the Christ conceived of Spirit, of God and not of a woman — as the birth of Truth, the dawn of divine Love breaking upon the gloom of matter and evil with the glory of infinite being" (p. 262) Isn't that sense of birth, that dawning understanding in the human consciousness, a fundamental aspect of all our church activities, no matter what day it is? This sense of Christmas celebration carries another benefit, which is that it is doesn't depend on a specific calendar date! It frees us from waiting for Christmas, or pinning all our hopes on some magical time, and encourages us to live everything we love about Christmas, today. Why shouldn't someone be able to walk into a Christian Science branch church, or The Mother Church, and feel a tangible sense of Christmas celebration no matter what time of year it is?
Now, this is a challenge for us to take up! Are we willing to devote ourselves to living this dawning understanding of Christ, and sharing this just as freely as we share carols and gifts on December 25th? The more we're willing to do this, the more we'll be empowered to invite our friends (and friends-to-be!) to just "come and see" and not feel pressured to get defensive (see John 1:46 for a graceful illustration of this calm confidence).
As far as a specific way that churches can or should acknowledge the calendar date of Christmas, every church is given the beautiful gift in The Manual of The Mother Church of being distinctly democratic. Some churches may enjoy hosting hymn sings and potlucks; some may invite the community for a Christmas-themed lecture; some may not speak of it at all and just embrace the congregation and community in quiet love. Be willing to be a part of how your church family is moved, and to feel unafraid to share your own inspiration.
Most importantly, whatever it is that you love about Christmas, please live it every day and let that love shine!
RESPONSE 2: Rebecca Odegaard
What a wonderful opportunity to share some thoughts about Christmas with your friends, and the depth of its meaning for all of us observing it. It’s often helpful to start on common ground, maybe by assuring your friends that Christian Scientists rejoice with all the world in recognizing the earth-changing occasion of the birth of the Christ child. You might mention that our Sunday sermon that comes closest to the date Christmas falls on in a given year, is based on some aspect of what is called the Christmas Story. Several of the hymns in our denomination’s hymnal are set to familiar carols that are sung throughout the season. But more than this, you might have an opening to explain further, that the coming of the Christ child to Christian Scientists, represents the coming of God’s healing message of love for all time. The salvation from sin, sickness, and death was the central thrust of Christ Jesus’ mission. His teachings of God’s healing presence with us, or Immanuel, remain the centerpiece of the theology of Christian Science.
In our practice of daily prayer for the world, our communities, our neighbors and family members, as well as for ourselves, we are carrying on the mission Christ Jesus taught and established. We are literally opening our thought to the coming of the Christ, or Christmas, every time we look to God, which for many is just as Paul explained, to “pray without ceasing” (I Thess.5:17). It makes the occasion a moment-by-moment one in addition to the annual one we observe.
In Science and Health, which is the textbook for students of Christian Science, its author, Mary Baker Eddy describes the Christ as, “the true idea voicing good, the divine message from God to men speaking to human consciousness” (Science and Health, p. 332). This message imparted by God, and received by us, is the same power Christ Jesus employed when he healed multitudes, calmed the sea, and raised his friend Lazarus from death.
Reading many of the remarks Mrs. Eddy made in her writings, it is clear that Christmas occupies a reverent place. One of her descriptions points out, “This interesting day, crowned with the history of Truth’s idea, ---- its earthly advent and nativity, ---- is especially dear to the heart of Christian Scientists; to whom Christ’s appearing in a fuller sense is so precious, and fraught with divine benedictions for mankind” (Miscellanous Writings 1833-1896, p. 320).
Celebrations do take place in many ways--some with joyous music and festivities in our communities, and others in quiet, healing prayer spent at a loved one’s bedside, or in holy moment looking into the same twinkling sky the shepherds used to guide them to the manger. In their own way, these aspects of Christmastime have their collective glory and ability to move us nearer to God and His beloved Christ.