Taking A Seat for the Holidays

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

Matthew 2:11

This year, for the first time in more than 25 years, I’m experiencing Christmas differently.

From the pew.

I’m a campus minister now, which means my duties don’t always carry over to a Sunday morning. I find myself sitting out in the congregation, and the difference of perspective has been a big change.

I’ll be honest — it’s not easy. Once you’re used to being up front, taking a seat for the holidays can be jarring. I keep catching myself thinking I’ve forsaken the true meaning of Christmas, but of course that’s not true. I’ve simply rotated my life a few degrees, and from this angle, I can see Christmas coming in a different way.

Not being up front sure takes the pressure off. There’s no need to get my words just right or have perfect pitch for a song. I’m not directing anything or leading anything. I’m just here to be part of it.

I watch the families lighting the Advent candle, and instead of hoping I get their names right, I simply watch the children’s fascination with the flame, and I listen to the words of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. (I don’t even have to worry about getting those four in the right order!)

I listen to the beautiful music, the song of bells, the trumpet of brass, the brilliance of the organ. I appreciate all the work that goes into the celebration of the season, and I let the music carry me away. Except for the occasional rumble of my stomach, I’m not checking my watch incessantly hoping we’re not running late.

I listen to a good sermon, preached by a good pastor, and I find my mind expanded with some new ideas. I find myself guided towards the manger, knowing I am in good hands. Yes, I do miss the creative joy of writing a sermon each week, but instead of making sure my jokes get a good laugh or that I bring each week’s point home, I allow myself to be taught, filled with a message of the coming Christ.

And I find myself more of a participant than I thought I might be. Rather than sitting passively, absorbing the sights and sounds as if by osmosis, I, too, have a part to play in this celebration. The Lord’s Prayer has more meaning when you’re struggling not to mess up the words. Each hymn requires my voice. Greeting my neighbor is an act of grace.

I have a job to do, celebrating Christmas from the pew. It’s a different job than I’m used to, and it’s definitely taking some adjustment, but it is the job of worshipping, rather than leading worship. There’s a subtle difference there, but an important one. You and I, no matter where we sit, are called to worship God with all we have, and when a congregation invests in worship at Christmas, or really, any time, the Holy Spirit is clearly present.

After all these years in ministry, I’m still learning what it means to worship. And you, who may have much more practice in the pews than I do, are teaching me how to do it.

Getting paid to lead worship is one thing,

but paying Christ homage

is everyone’s job.

Have a great week,


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