Who are we kidding? It's 90 degrees outside.
I'm suffering from fall allergies. The leaves are still on the trees.
There are Halloween decorations everywhere (since June), but our staff just finished a Christmas service planning meeting.
It's not right. It shouldn't even be legal.
Then again, this is a different kind of year.
This is the year Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday. We normally have three Sunday morning services and we normally have four Christmas Eve services. But there is no way we can (or should even attempt to) have 7 services in one day. So we have to plan, and meet, and pray, and plan some more, and overcommunicate with each other and the congregation, early, often, and a lot.
That said, the calendar should not be the primary catalyst for us to prepare early.
I know I'm preaching to the choir, and that every reader is already engaged in preparing for the season of Advent and for Christmas. I believe there is still however room to make a case for early and diligent preparation.
We prepare early because God deserves our best. If you work in a church and are involved in any way in the preparation and planning of worship, think of yourself as an Old Testament priest, where your offering is the best worship you can present to God, on behalf of the people. If that is the case, I am then reminded (and haunted) by the first chapter of Malachi. The prophet reminds the priests of their offering practices. Instead of bringing their blue ribbon offerings, they look among their flock for the one eyed, three legged lamb. The one that is leaning against the post. The one that is easy and quick to catch. The one they can spare.
Finding the perfect lamb to offer takes time. It required the priest to roam around the flock, spending time with the sheep, narrowing down the options, examining for imperfections, and finally bringing the absolute best to the altar. In the same way, the worship planner needs to carve the time, become familiar with the tools and worship elements, try out combinations, carefully examine new songs, video packages, sermon illustrations, printed material, in order to present the best we have been given.
We also prepare early because it is incredibly difficult to focus a consistent message when you're fighting the clock. Let's face it. The weeks leading to Christmas Eve are incredibly busy. Not only does church staff have to deal with Advent, candlelight concerts, staff parties, and all sorts of deadlines, but there is also the reality that church staff and volunteers are people too, with families to visit, gifts to wrap, dinners to plan, etc.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the monstrous December to-do list. And we all know the temptation to gravitate toward the formulaic Christmas Eve - the kind of services we've done for what feels like 2,000 years. Creativity needs space and time. The wise Geri, the cleaner, said in Toy Story 2, "You can't rush art." How true that is when it comes to the church.
Finally, we prepare early because too much hangs in the balance. As in many churches, our Christmas Eve crowd swells to three times our regular Sunday attendance. That means the majority of those who will hear the message of God's love will only do so once or twice this year.
I know pastors who take the opportunity to slap their wrists for not going to church regularly. No. We can do better. We can make it count. We can pray that God uses our diligent preparation to do what only God can do: transform lives, touch hearts, begin new spiritual journeys, bless, and break through the most hardened and anxious hearts. Indeed, too much hangs in the balance to leave things to only a few weeks.
If you think it's too early to plan for Christmas, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Have you noticed that Easter 2018 falls on April 1st - April Fools?
That's going to be a fun one.
You'll be glad you did.