Encouragement From The Word

The hopes and fears of all the years…

Well, here we are again:  December.  Where does the time go?

 To some, this is just a month like the other eleven, but to most – or at least to most people in the western world, anyway – it is a very different month, because Christmas is part of it.  So here we are, three weeks from Christmas eve.  Has the tension started to build for you yet?

My experience as a church leader is that the month of December is an enigma:  it provides opportunities like no other for ministry to happen among people who may not otherwise welcome it, and it provides stress like no other.  Let’s face it:  for many people, Christmas is about tradition.  If you don’t believe me, try leading a non-traditional Christmas eve service and see what happens.  Better yet, just trust me on that one.

Knowing that Christmas is not everything it’s made out to be in the movies (or, dare I say, in the Bible!), I asked the people in my circle of acquaintance on Facebook to tell me what excites them, frustrates them, and even scares them about Christmas.  Take a look at some of the responses I received:

  • Excitement:
    • Being with family
    • Seeing Christmas through children
    • Knowing I am saved
    • Singing carols
    • Entertaining
    • Christmas eve service
    • Anticipation of Christmas morning
    • Giving gifts
    • Joining family and friends in celebration
    • Sharing good news, making the message more powerful
    • Leading families into ‘God moments’
    • Christmas lights
    • Warmth in people’s hearts
    • Contagious joy
  • Frustration:
    • Grumpy sales people and shoppers
    • Malls
    • People who don’t know Jesus
    • Buying gifts for people who have everything
    • The commercial side
    • Removing Christ from Christmas, political correctness
    • People’s anger and busyness
    • The ‘more’ mentality
    • When the only thing people care about is what you ‘got’ for Christmas
    • The day goes by so quickly
    • Family disagreements
  • Scares:
    • Not being prepared
    • The weather for travelling
    • That so few people know why Christmas exists
    • The inevitable let-down and ensuing depression
    • Overspending, credit card debt
    • Not being able to keep up
    • Not being able to live the message of Christmas
    • That people will miss ‘The Gift’ amid the gifts
    • The loss of the meaning to political correctness

 Do you see a trend here?

 It is easy to find the true meaning of Christmas slipping away amid the pressures, overt and covert, to spend, spend and outspend.  Even people who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves ‘religious’ and don’t regularly participate in the life of the church bemoan the lost state of the Christmas season nowadays.  So what can we do about it?

Don’t give in.  Celebrate Christmas – Christ-mass!  And celebrate Advent, the time of preparation for his coming.  By all means, participate in parties and merry-making as you are able, but feel free to make it a celebration of the coming of Jesus, and not just an excuse to drink – or eat! – to excess.  Make gift-giving what it was intended to be:  symbolic of the greatest gift ever given, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Don’t give to impress.  Don’t give to show off.  Don’t give because you think someone will love you more if you give that person something more expensive.  Give out of love, not out of obligation.  We can’t out-give God, who gave his only Son.  But we can symbolize that extravagant love with gifts we give, especially gifts that help the needy.  And keep it simple.  While cooking for a houseful can’t help but be complicated, try to make the whole celebration as low-stress as possible, so that everyone can focus on the true meaning of the season, and the greatest Gift of all.

Easier said than done, I know.   But I’m praying for you as you try; please do the same for me!

A Saviour has just been born in David’s town, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master.  This is what you’re to look for:  a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger” (Luke 2.11-12, The Message).

After all, you don’t get much simpler than a baby wrapped in a blanket lying in a manger.