“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” the song tells us. At least that’s true on store shelves heavily stocked with Christmas gifts and decorations for sale. And beyond the look, there’s the dubious sound of Christmas for some: “Cha-ching, cha-ching.”
A continuous string of commercials over the next month will ring with the same message: “Buy, buy now, and buy more!” The onslaught of ads that started long before Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber-Monday will continue long after, with hefty credit card bills arriving close behind.
But the church has a unique opportunity to show and share with people the true meaning of this season of Advent and Christmas and to model respectful, creative kinds of gift-giving and celebrating. Paul says in the letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “ (Romans 12:2)
How will you have a Christ-filled Christmas this year? You don’t have to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but you can instead push back against its “care-less” commercialism. Why not emulate the star that guided wise men, and set a shining example of a more excellent way for the world to follow? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Observe a Holy Advent
Advent is the beginning of the church calendar and it begins four weeks before Christmas. During this time the church ponders the coming of Christ: past, present and future. It is also a time to look within. The best way to prepare for Christmas is to lean forward by exercising the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, study of the Scriptures, tithing, worship attendance, Holy Communion and devotional reading. Ask God to reveal the things that you need to change in your life. Get involved in a Bible Study at church or in your community. Don’t miss a single Sunday of worship. Faithfully give of your means to help the poor.
The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas harkens back to the time of the Wise Men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child (Matthew 2:11). In our modern American culture it has become less about honoring Christ but more about our obsession with material things, even those who have more than enough things. Push back. Ponder carefully the gift-giving that you will do this year. Then lean forward. Consider alternative gifts. Giving in someone’s name or memory to the Congo Partnership, the Imagine No Malaria Campaign, or Heifer Project International could show them true honor and resonate with their true values.
Or send your dollars, along with your prayers, to places where the precious lives of refugees hang in the balance, threatened each day by hunger, oppression, abandonment and despair. Check out Mike Slaughter’s blog, “Face of a Refugee” or visit Global Ministries’ Website, and learn more about the desperate ordeal racing these “foreigners in foreign lands.”
As baby Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt so are thousands of people who flee the ravages of war in the Middle East this Christmas. When he spoke recently at Hopewell UMC’s Planting Seeds for Ministry Growth seminar, Mike told us about a new “Beyond Bethlehem” campaign to help refugees. We are challenged to devote half of our Christmas giving toward a miracle offering to save thousands of refugees and “not to idly stand by as more lives are lost and displaced.” Please use the Advance project number #3022144 for your sacrificial Christmas gifts.
When purchasing store-bought items have you researched where these things are made? Many textiles are made in countries that pay their workers very little or abuse children who work long hours. Human trafficking and enslavement of workers is on the rise. Push back. Go online to find retailers that sell “Fair Trade” items. “Fair Trade” means the producer, and not the corporate middle-man, gets a fair market price for their wares. Or lean forward. Giving something homemade or giving the gift of time by making personal visits or performing labors of love are alternative gifts that will likely be remembered and appreciated for years to come.
3. Party responsibly
Think of how often we Americans bemoan weight gains that happen as a result of too much consumption of food around the holidays. Often the abuse of alcohol results in tragedy and deteriorating health. Jesus attended the festive wedding in Cana and was known to frequent the homes of people who would serve food. So eating is fine, but over-doing it is the problem. Push back from overconsumption. Honor God by the way you care for your body, with modest consumption and generous rest and exercise during this busy time.
4. Invite the Christ Child to your Christmas
Jesus said, “As you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Lean forward. Seek a way to celebrate Christmas with those who have none of the world’s goods or who are lonely. Christmas can be the saddest time of the year for the elderly, the student far from home, the recently widowed, people in institutions or people with limiting or disabling conditions, to name a few. Many of us know someone we could reach out to who may need our loving concern or just an invitation and a warm welcome.
We can honor Christ by honoring those who are Jesus’ special concern. His priority was to bring “good news to the poor.” (Luke 4: 18) When you do so “unto the least of these” you will find deep abiding joy that is at the heart of Christ and of Christmas.
Don’t celebrate Christmas the world’s way! Push back. Instead observe Advent and Christmas by leaning forward into the way of Christ. God will be glorified, and there will be peace and goodwill among all, starting with you.