This Christmas, ponder your position with God, ponder the praise of angels and shepherds, and ponder the Son on the cross.
Worship leader, the Christmas season may very well be the most stressful time of year for you. The technicalities of scheduling musicians, arranging songs, multiple rehearsals, and producing wholly unique holiday services are one thing. But then add to that the stress of expectations from your leaders and fellow church members – “make this the most memorable Christmas yet!” – and you have a recipe for draining the joy out of an otherwise jubilant occasion.
But I have some good news for you. The story of Christmas itself holds a peculiar detail that might offer the cure for your Christmas crazy.
The gospel of Luke paints a spectacular picture of the Christmas story, complete with miraculous conceptions, miracles, angelic appearances, and prophetic utterances. To be living in those moments must have been quite a spectacle. Maybe that’s why we feel the urge to commemorate this yearly ritual with fanfare that fits the occasion. We pull out all the stops and deck the halls because we believe that’s the best way to get the most out of it. After all, the story is filled with people struck by the wonderment and awe of the circumstances. Shouldn’t we be too? And shouldn’t we, as worship leaders, produce the same in our special Christmas services?
If anyone had an excuse for getting caught up in the crazy, it was Mary, the person closest in time and place to that very first Christmas. And yet, the Bible shows us Mary set her heart and mind to a different pace. Mary, it seems, was a bit of a ponderer.
Ponder your position with God
Besides a personal visit from an angel, the message of “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” must have been a shock to a young Jewish girl living in the shadow of 400 years of a broken kingdom. For so long, God had been silent, and the kingdom promised had grown as much in myth as anything else. But now, through her virgin womb, God would bring a king and usher in an eternal kingdom. And Luke tells us Mary was left pondering how she could be so favored for this position – to bear the future king.
Mary’s bewilderment might cause us to reflect, as well, on our own history. How is it that we, each of us, should be favored by God to receive such good news? How often do we take time in the busy Christmas season to revisit our own story and see the bizarre circumstance of our own blessed visitation?
Each of us who calls Christ Lord is a recipient of the message of the good news. We did not deserve it—there was nothing good in us to merit God’s special attention. We did not earn it—far from it! Every inclination of our heart was only evil all the time (Gen. 6:5). But God revealed to us by His Spirit (freely!) the good news of Jesus Christ so that we might truly be called ‘blessed’ (Luke 1:42).
For Mary, the good news of her future son came from God’s messenger angel Gabriel. The good news of God’s son came to us through a long line of faithful prophets and then by faithful messengers preaching the gospel by God’s own Spirit. Indeed, we can ponder with Mary the astonishing revelation that God has stepped down from glory with a message of grace not only to us, but for us. That’s a thought that even angels long to understand (1 Peter 1:10-12).
Ponder the praise of angels and shepherds
Speaking of angels, consider with Mary the extravagance of the welcoming party on delivery day. Remember that Mary bore the child for nine months without confirmation or reassurance that it would come to pass as Gabriel had promised. But now imagine Mary’s surprise as shepherds arrive seeking a child—her newborn baby—in confirmation of their own miraculous and heavenly promise:
For Mary, the news came in a quiet conversation—for shepherds, a blaze of angelic, choral glory! “How can it be,” Mary must have pondered, “that God would send this gift through me and this message through lowly shepherds?” (Luke 2:18-20)
That’s quite a thought for us to ponder, too. Not only has God given us His Son, but He has given us the privilege of praise and proclamation. With all its power to save, the gospel message has not been given to angels—but to you. And with a heavenly choir ready at a moment’s notice, the honor of giving God praise is now yours, as well (Psalm 22:3). Angels must be shocked at all the attention we give them each Christmas. The truth is that we are the real wonder and glory of God’s attention. We are the spectacle, not merely the spectators.
Ponder the Son on the cross
For Mary, each new revelation about her son exceeded the previous. In our seasonal readings of the Christmas story, we might tend to clip off the last portion of the narrative. Mary and Joseph marveled at Simeon’s prophetic blessing of their son—yet another confirmation of the promise. But as almost an aside to Mary, Simeon spoke a message much different than the ones before:
We see completely what Mary would only understand 30 years later. Her Son would die on a cross to save the world. That would be the fulfillment of the promise of a King, a Savior, and the Son of God made man. The Christmas story is only complete with the ending in full view. Like Mary, we must hold the cross before our eyes as closely as we hold the child.
The pondering practicum
Worship leaders, the practice of pondering Christmas like Mary might be the very thing you need. You are the caretakers and proclaimers of the gospel in song, even at Christmas. Give your church the message given to Mary, that she has been seen by God and blessed with a Son and a King. Sing songs of hope for a kingdom that cannot fail and a God who is faithful.
Give your church the glorious message that God has brought peace to the world through His Son and that this reconciliation is a gift to all mankind. The gospel is for the humble, the broken, the outcast, and the ordinary. God’s good news shines forth into all the world and needs only willing messengers to proclaim it further. He dwells in the praises of His people, so give them the gospel to proclaim.
Tether your mind and heart to the cross as you plan your services and choose the songs to sing around Christmas. Remember that God has accomplished all the work of salvation already. In other words, as genuine as your intentions and efforts might be, they save no one. Only the work of the Spirit through the message of the cross brings life, so make that clear (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Make Christ’s work the centerpiece of Christmas.
Lastly, lead your church toward the spectacular truth of the gospel this Christmas, and you will find you need no other spectacle. Ponder the glory of God made flesh, and you will not be satisfied with any means of worship other than Him. Remember that the shepherds were not striving for another heavenly concert. They were seeking a baby in a manger, and that was enough to set them ablaze with praise. And with Mary, treasure everything God has given you this Christmas, ponder it deeply, and pass it on to your people.