Years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Total Quality Improvement by way of an engineer in the church I was serving. TQM (Total Quality Management) was his bailiwick and the primary responsibility he had in his place of employment. He quickly helped me to see the many applications the approach had to what the church is called to be about, and I immediately began to see the places where continual improvement could bless the church’s efforts to serve God, our “primary customer,” as well as the rest of us “secondary customers.” That epiphany happened over 20 years ago, and I haven’t stopped making the connections since.
But along the way, I have had to acknowledge that there are some settings that don’t really benefit from any improvement efforts – like Christmas. Granted, we can always think of ways to strengthen our celebration of this special season, but at the end of the (holy)day, it all comes down to the poignant story of a young couple miles from home with a newborn baby born in a manger. This simple story has always been on one hand so raw and on the other hand so preposterous that the whole world cannot help but lean into it and listen.
I’m reminded of the dad who one season declared to his family that their Christmas was going to be different that year. He had called a family conference to challenge everyone to be more disciplined in the management of their time during the busy Christmas season. He told them, moreover, that they needed to curtail all excessive spending on Christmas gifts. He talked about having better relations with visiting relatives and a generally more congenial atmosphere around their home. He finally brought his holiday speech to a great crescendo with this ultimate rally cry: “Let’s make this the best Christmas ever!” However, his little second grade son countered all the motivation by noting, “But dad, I don’t see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas!” Indeed, we can’t, and we honestly shouldn’t try.
That’s why at MBBC we’ll just rely on some wonderful Christmas traditions. Our Living Nativity, though tweaked on its dates, will continue to feature the simple story with Dr. Nelson’s elegant narration, and our Christmas Eve services, though again expanded with the two options of 4 or 6 p.m., will culminate in a glorious Christmas communion.
If this Christmas is better, it will be because of how you have sensed God’s nearness in a way you’ve never known. But come to think about it, that’s an improvement that happens only when each of us takes the time and opportunity to lean in to the story for ourselves and let its good news touch us as we’ve never done before. Indeed, such a precious gift might be something that this Christmas you might consider giving to yourself.
“Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15b).