Christmastime is here! It is evident in the decorations, the mad dash of shopping, the Christmas music playing, and the excitement building in kids and “kids at heart” alike. It is filled with warm memories that grow more meaningful as the years seemingly fly by. The amazing truth of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us has never ceased to fill me with awe and wonder. It has always been the most wonderful time of the year for me. At least it was, until the year 2020 barreled through like an out of control locomotive. That year, as I am sure many of you can attest to, was a year like no other. Things turned upside down and life suddenly became very hard to navigate. The ways we had celebrated Christmas, in my case for 40+ years, suddenly became very different and in some ways not even possible. Yet even in that strange and difficult year, there were certain traditions that we had started when our kids were very little that became an anchor for us in a sea of turbulent times. Celebrating Advent and lighting the candles each week, became even more meaningful as we reflected on Jesus coming to rescue those lost in a sin-sick world full of darkness and pain. It also gave us hope and courage, as we looked forward to the promise that he would come again and put an end to suffering once and for all. I realized there were certain traditions that, for a myriad of reasons, just couldn’t happen that year, as much as we would have liked them to. Up to that point I had taken these traditions for granted, assuming they would always be a part of Christmas celebrations. But when we had to do without them, I realized how truly important and meaningful those traditions were and how we deeply missed them. One of those traditions was Bethany’s Christmas Tea Program. We are relatively new to this tradition, having attended Bethany now for a little over 5 years, but it is a Christmas tradition that brings great joy to our family.
The first Christmas Tea we experienced was when Tim and Mary Sommers were directing the program, pouring out their time, talents, and love for God and the church in a night of celebration of faith and fellowship. God used that night to help prepare our hearts for celebrating the coming of our Savior. I will never forget the first time we stood and heard the Hallelujah chorus being sung by the congregation, it was honestly like a little taste of Heaven for us. It was then quite a great privilege, and truthfully quite daunting, when the mantle of coordinating the Christmas Tea was passed on to me (after all Mary’s shoes are impossible to fill!!). But it has been a great blessing to be given this opportunity and to continue this beloved tradition that Pastor John and Grace began so many years ago.
This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly and each person who has been given the charge to plan the Tea has added their own personal touch, because after all no one is exactly the same. It goes without saying that no program is ever “perfect”, but I truly believe each person who has directed the program has sought to honor God, encourage the Church Family, and celebrate the King who has come and is coming again; through the use of song, drama, and hearing the Word of God. For me, this is not just a Christmas program where everyone gets to come and enjoy cute kiddos dressed like Bible characters and listen to pretty Christmas music, although that is a wonderful part of it. Instead, it is the way God has called me to share the Good News of Great Joy that is for all people. It is a way for me to use the talents He has entrusted me with, to encourage others to use the talents they have been given to glorify God, and remind those who see the program to pause, reflect, and remember what Christmas is all about. This is especially important during a time when the true message of Christmas can be hard to find. I know that when I sat as a member of the audience and enjoyed it from that perspective it was a rich blessing for me, and it is my greatest Joy to hear how God continues to use it to bless others.
I think one of my favorite things about the Tea program is that it brings together the whole church. So many different people use their gifts and talents both on the stage and behind the scenes to bring about that night of worship. It would never be possible for something like that to happen if it was only about one person. I’m not sure that Bethany truly appreciates how MANY talented people are at this church; not just musically, but in so many ways. It is just so delightful to watch God put this program together and use so many different people to play a special role leading up to and during that evening.
The joy of working as one entity towards a common goal is wonderful, and to see the culminating work of that, as all of us come together to honor God as Emmanuel, is truly amazing. It gives me hope that if we can set aside our differences; do all things with humility, patience, and love; make sacrifices of our time; offer up the talents God has given each of us; and work together with joy on something like this Tea program, imagine what else we as a church body can do for the Kingdom! It is also amazing to see the next generation enjoying the tradition that so many of you enjoyed when you were their age; knowing that something rich, and beautiful is being passed along to those who will one day take up the mantle and lead it themselves.
Every Tea program requires a lot of effort from a lot of people and there are times when it feels a bit overwhelming. But each year God reaffirms how it is more than a program. God has a plan and a purpose for the Tea and that makes it worth all the hard work! This year was especially meaningful since we didn’t have one last year. We have all, in our own ways, dealt with hard, difficult, and even painful things these past 2 years. Because of this, it was impressed upon my heart that this program was important, not because it was just another tradition but because it was an opportunity for us as a body of believers to gather together and sing into the darkness. To rejoice in spite of all that is going on and to remember that God keeps His promises and He is still good. It was a wonderful moment to hear all the voices singing together the songs of Christmas. To see all those who were able to gather together and those who were able to join us through the livestream (at one point we had almost 40 different devices watching!) was something I will treasure and not take for granted. I spoke with one women who came as a guest of a Bethany Member, who told me that she is a Muslim but wanted me to know that through the Christmas Tea Program, she learned more about Jesus and it filled her heart with Joy and Love. What joy it is to think that someone was able to see the Christ we worship, the true Light of the World, and too potentially have a seed of faith planted because of a Christmas program! There were many other people who shared how blessed and encouraged they were that evening as well! Praise God, for taking our humble offering of praise and using it to bring great glory to Himself!
Traditions are important things. Some come and some go, some change over the years but The Christmas Tea has taught me that they can be rich opportunities too anchor ourselves to the foundations of our faith and to be blessed by fellowship with those with whom we share our Faith in Christ. It sometimes takes being faced with how truly unpredictable, fragile, and out of control life really is, for one to truly appreciate the things that bring us Joy and deepen our faith. I pray that you and your families will enjoy many joyful traditions during this season and that you were all blessed and encouraged by Sunday's program. I pray that Lord-willing in the years to come: the Holy Spirit will continue to guide how the program should go, that it will always honor God, and that when it is time to pass the torch to the next generation they will, in their own unique way, carry on this precious tradition that has been woven throughout our shared history. Thank you so much for the privilege of allowing me to share in a small part of this beloved tradition. Merry Christmas!!