When I was growing up you would hear Church bells on Sundays – from both protestant and Roman Catholic (English and French Catholic) churches. They would ring off and on from early Sunday morning well into the evening. I am sure for those who were not believers and wished to sleep in on Sundays they were not a pleasant experience. But for church goers it was a soothing and reassuring sound.
At Christmas time the sound of the bells – much louder and crisper due to the snow and the cold – would remind us of the birth of the Saviour and, as everyone walked in the freshly fallen snow to the local churches for Christmas Eve midnight services, it was a time to greet your neighbors and friends and celebrate and rejoice at the birth of the Savior. Stores were closed early, families gathered for the celebrations, all preparations for the big meal were accomplished ahead of time, tree was up, gifts were wrapped … the night and the next morning were set aside for families to gather to worship and thank God the Father for the gift of His Son, the Savior. The reading of John’s Gospel, chapter one, was always a highlight as were the carols that were sung with great gusto by everyone. Even the local cities and towns had Christmas trees in the town square and often pumped Christmas music into the downtown shopping district.
Today, in most cities, the bells are silent. Noise by-laws prevent them from being rung. In many churches the midnight Christmas Eve service has been eliminated or replaced with something much earlier in the day – again without the bells ringing. There are more people in the stores doing last minute shopping than there are in the churches. Family gatherings still happen but they are most often centered around the gifts and the over-eating with little if any thought or reference to the Savior. There are exceptions, of course. Christmas concerts are now Winter Festivals, the mention of Jesus in public celebrations is very rare and no longer socially acceptable, and Christmas carols have been replaced with festive seasonal songs from many nations and cultural backgrounds – all without the mention of Jesus.
The country has changed. Family traditions have changed. Churches have changed. The laws have changed as has the culture in which we, as believers, now celebrate the birth of the Savior. However, most believers have also been swayed by the changes in our society and are now celebrating the season in a manner much too much like their non-Christian friends and neighbors. The “Christian” elements are being eliminated or played down, the corporate worship at such a special time is being neglected or eliminated unless you are in a main-stream denominational church (and even then it is fading), and the family events, gifts, and food are becoming the center of the celebrations and the focus of the extra few days off. I, for one, think it is sad. Maybe it is just my age showing through.
This, of course, means that it is now, more than ever, up to the believer to ring the bells – to let others know about Jesus. As the “reason for the season” disappears ever so steadily from the mainstream of our culture it is being left to the individual believers to declare Jesus at this special time that once celebrated His birth so openly. Like the believers in the days of the Roman Empire we need to continue to worship Him while others worship their gods – especially the god of mammon. We need to be sure and steadfast in what we believe and how we should, as believers, express our beliefs. Otherwise, we will slowly but certainly slide into the cultural ways and disappear as a voice for the Savior today.