Olivia Newport King's College Lessons and CarolsHow many Christmas concerts or special services have you been to this year? I went to two, which is pretty typical for me.

The first was a low-key, small crowd sort of thing, with a single performer on a piano in a mismatched venue that made the crowd look paltry. (It did not help that the night was a frigid icy evening when most sane people would just stay home. I was there because I have wild and daring friends.) The performer was engaging and interactive, drinking tea and laughing with the audience in between songs.

Eventually she had the audience pitch ideas for what makes a great Christmas song and share favorite Christmas memories. Then she chose three chords, used the audience ideas, and wrote a song on the spot. A little sappy, but it rhymed. (However, the skeptic in me suspects she has used the same tune in other concerts. That’s how bad I am.)

Was she the most polished performer I’d ever seen? No. But I left that night with an appreciation for the creative gift she carried and generously shared. Certainly I could never have done what she did. Also, I admired how genuinely she offered the gift to the glory of the giver.

The second event was one I’ve been going to for about fifteen years, an Anglican style Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in the great stone chapel of a local historic college. It’s just what it sounds like—nine readings from Scripture and perhaps fifteen carols either sung by the congregation or performed by students in various configurations. Antiphon from the balcony. Procession. Structure. Orderliness. Pipe organ. String quartet. Candle lighting. Recession. That kind of stuff.

Serious polish. Waaay at the other end of the spectrum from the first event. It’s packed every year. The weather never matters.

I enjoyed both events for distinct reasons. I’m an introverted creature of habit and I love traditions that rise out of church history more passionately that most people in my circles. But lest I get too stuffy, it’s good to have friends who spontaneously will say, “Let’s go do this” and come fetch me in their red chariot. It’s good to get a reminder to look on the heart and bend a little on how the outward form shapes up.

And that’s a needful lesson at a time of year when we blow our minds out trying to get them around ideas—nay, realities—of God with us, God in the flesh, Jesus setting aside the privilege of Godhead to be human.

• What pushes you out of your box a little at Christmas?