Snippets of the Season: A Close-Up of Two Arizona Churches at Christmas
By Carl Stagner
“Do we put Christmas away now?” The provocative question served as the basis for Pastor Mike’s sermon the day after Christmas at West Side Church of God in Glendale, Arizona. While some opt to leave their holiday decorations up through New Year’s Day (and others perhaps all year!), some (and you know who you are!) choose to begin putting away their lights, trees, wreathes, and nativity scenes away on the 26th. But, in packing away the external evidence of the “most wonderful time of the year,” do we inadvertently pack away the spirit of the season—the joy, the wonder, the pervasive kindness, and the applicable truths of “God with us”? A brief close-up of the ministries of West Side and North Hills in neighboring Phoenix, Arizona, in the days immediately surrounding Christmas 2021, are reflective of the inspirational teaching, worship, generosity, and creativity so characteristic of congregations across the Church of God movement at Christmas.
A couple days before Christmas (affectionately dubbed by some as Christmas “Adam”—Adam came before Eve, of course), North Hills Church held their pre-Christmas gathering for the congregation and community. While their non-Christmas Eve approach might be considered nontraditional, the service on the 23rd opened up the Christmas Eve hours for family get-togethers and other activities. Upon arrival, guests with children were encouraged to climb aboard a make-shift sleigh pulled by bicycle; a quick, fun tour around the church parking lot led them back to the front entrance. Hot chocolate warmed bodies and the gracious welcome warmed souls. A laid-back atmosphere made everyone feel at home; cookies were distributed during the service without undue concern for crumbs likely left behind. A monologue by Alyssa Schifferer portraying Mary set the tone for her husband’s message. Pastor Zach Schifferer continued the month-long theme at North Hills that night, creatively connecting the biblical narrative to the common description of families far and wide during the holidays—“dysfunctional.”
The relatability of the Scriptures and the characters depicted therein reminds readers that everyone is welcome in the presence of the Lord. The hope found in Jesus is the hope in the midst of every dysfunction. Local churches, like North Hills and West Side, offer their surrounding communities the chance to discover that hope and grow in it.
The day after Christmas might not be the most popular day to go to church, but West Side Church of God carried on their ministries with excellence. Expounding on Acts 2:36–39, Pastor Mike Hodges challenged listeners to embrace the mission that flows naturally from the Christmas story; the Christmas message is not for one day alone, but is a promise for every day. Noting the tendency for us to go back to the way things were, Mike suggested it’s not hard to return to the things we were doing, falling back into the same patterns we were in before Christmas. He couldn’t help but wonder if the feeling immediately after Christmas is similar to how the disciples felt after Jesus ascended. The resulting feeling of emptiness is certainly real, but the mission remains. Should we put Christmas away now? Absolutely not!
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Feature (top) photo: Pastor Mike Hodges speaks at West Side Church of God in Glendale, Arizona, on December 26.