On Pastors and Christmas

I really envy pastors that get excited about Christmas.  In many respects I truly love Christmas.  I think that Advent hymns are probably the strongest in the hymnal, and once you get past all the English carols, Lutheran hymnody on our Lord’s Incarnation are wonderful and as full of Gospel as any you will find.

But I must also admit that I have a really difficult time with the season.

There are a number of reasons for this.  First of all, the period from Thanksgiving until about the end of January just has a lot of very difficult memories.  The death of our unborn daughter.  The death of my mother.  There are others, but those are teh two biggies.  So I kinda feel like this season is bookended for me with sadness on either side.

Secondly, it is just a lot of work.  There are typically 6-7 extra services with sermons during the month of December, and that is a lot if you care about actually preparing.

Third, many of the parishes problems and challenges inevitably arrive during December.  Budgets.  Personal crises.  Extra counseling.  Christmas programs.  It all happens this time of year.

Finally, there is the continued spectre for the preacher of coming up with something new on the most familiar of all biblical texts.  It is hard work, and I’m not always successful at it.

The result of all this is that I find myself more stressed out than usual, behind, tired, crabby, and generally not very full of Christmas cheer.  I am short and cross with my family.  I don’t have patience to deal with all of the very real problems that arise in my congregation.  At the very time when I need to be on my “A game” as a pastor, I feel like I am barely passing muster.

So what do you do when you are strung out as a pastor?  Inquiring minds want to know.


6 thoughts on “On Pastors and Christmas

  1. All I can say is I know no way out of it and I always find myself in the same hole.

    I always fantasize about getting everything in order and having luxuriously long amounts of time to ponder texts and the fathers and Luther and ancient hymns and really produce awesome sermons.

    But things heat up and time just gets eaten and the sermons are produced in a rush. But it is Christmas nonetheless. Christ is born without our labor and we get to sing the hymns and receive the sacrament.

    Such is December in all her finery.

  2. This is my fourth Advent and Christmas since I’ve graduated semianry and I think the first one where I’ve missed a lot of the “joy” of the time of year. The first three years I really looked forward to the Advent themes of repentance and preparation and the coming of Christ, as they are some of my favorites for preaching. This year really just felt like a lot of work. Copy that for my Christmas preparation (which is still not quite done).

    I guess all that’s left is to confess my failure to prepare the way I should, have a better attitude, and do my job better. Then along with absolution, I take comfort in the fact that the Holy Spirit can work through the worst of my sermons. As far as I know, I’ve yet to write the “perfect sermon”…and yet the Word is present, despite my faults!

    Blessings on your next few days of final preparations, Todd!

  3. First, stop whining and looking for the negative.

    I am sorry your mother and daughter died in this timeframe but remember they are in heaven celebrating Christmas with Christ. Some of us have relatives we know are in eternal damnation for rejecting Christ. There is no joy there.

    So you have to write more sermons. What a privilege to have bestowed upon you by God. You get to proclaim His law and Gospel. You get to forgive sins so many more times. You get to say the Words of Institution more times. Get on your knees and thank God. Some us have mundane jobs where we cannot even speak of Christ or say “Merry Christmas.” Think of what could be. You could be like the store clerk on her feet 8 hours a day dealing with cranky customers. You could be out in the cold working a job with subzero temperatures. You could be unemployed trying to figure out what food bank to go to.

    You also will be blessed by your church members with lots of gifts at Christmas time. I see what my pastor receives. He receives cash, bottles of wine, and gift certificates galore. His desk is full on Christmas. Those who spend hours volunteering at church receive nothing and rarely thanks. The other workers at church receive few gifts and normally of low value. Look at the good side.

    How about looking at what a great job you have? Your members just want to hear the Word. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to have a theme. Tells us our sins are forgiven. Tell us we have the hope of going to heaven.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. Dear Annie,

    Some people are cursed with the sweat on the brow others with sweat on the brain. Each vocation is cursed in its own way. Are you going to tell the sore-footed checkout lady that she is lucky that she gets to be around people all day and not in a lone study trying to think of a sermon that has no theme?

    Checkout ladies are busy and cold. Pastors are busy and burned (out). We each are cursed in our own vocation. To say “thank you Lord for I am not cursed as that other poor fella working out in the cold” doesn’t help anybody.

    The bottle of wine on the desk and other gifts they also don’t help a guy think, read or write.

    I like your last paragraph. A pastor has a great job. So does the guy who scooped my driveway (he gets to drive around scooping snow in a bobcat), the checkout lady has a great job.

    Christ helps us in our vocation because he has come as far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found. Even the curse of sweat on the brow, or sweat on the brain.

    Ebenezer. And so He will this Advent/Christmas too.


  5. I have the joy of working as a high school teacher in a public school, and the pastor of a small congregation. December in the inner city schools is difficult as the students are at their worst due to expectations of what Christmas ought to be, and what it isn’t for them. That said, the same is true in congregations – I have served four. Parishioners have competing ideas of what constitutes Advent and Christmas, and I have to hear about it. In the parish, I have more and more demands on my time but also on me personally, as parishioners will not provide the space to celebrate as I wish and in which I was raised and want to continue. It is unfair of parishioners to be angry that we will not appear at their celebrations at the same time that we are observing the traditions of our heritage. It is the invasion into my celebration and German traditions that I dislike.

    The other problem, we are busy creating a Christmas that never existed in reality, but only in nostalgia. In the northeast, we have fewer and fewer worshippers on Christmas Eve – forget about Christmas day – and after Christmas, I hear about it as if I were to blame somehow.

    I love the worship of Advent and Christmas, I adore the Midnight Eucharist and the Christmas morning Eucharist – it’s the begging and whining of “why can’t you just” that annoys me.

    Holy Week and Easter are much more work for clergy – especially since we have the full Vigil of Easter – but far less stressful and annoying for me. I sense that our congregations are being pulled into the secular mindset of Christmas, and we are feeling the effects; I don’t truly know. It just seems odd that Holy Week and Easter are much less stressful and so much more work.

    At least we have Epiphany on the horizon, and we can celebrate in the glory of the day without all the expectations around it.

  6. I am actually toying with the idea of planning out my Advent/Christmas stuff now, minus the sermons. Its all fresh in my head, and I still have it up on my computer and not tucked away till next year. I am very burned out after Advent and Christmas, but I think I might trying to get 09’s at least started….but of course there’s also Lent….e-gads, will it ever stop! Obviously not…unless our Lord returns or I end up being sent to him.

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