Signed in as:
The "Twelve Days of Christmas-tide" are completely gone.
Let's be clear. Christmas has been hijacked by the culture and turned into a mid-winter celebration of transactional love. We do our best to ignore a world filled with darkness.
It's a month long orgy of feasting, activities and excessive spending that runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas day, ending with another shopping binge and a New Year's hangover. Credit Card bills become the ghost of Christmas just past arriving in January.
The church's role in this story of midwinter smiles and faux-love is the kindly shop-keeper of nostalgia and "comfort food of the soul" that proclaims everything is ok (at least on the surface).
After all, it's really all about the children, and the child inside of each of us., isn't it?
We are encouraged to see ourselves as the manger babe, surrounded by a dark world magically filled with a heartwarming hope of something better.
As Christians, we need to work very hard to go deeper than that.
We need to explore the places that may help us recapture the deeply counter-culture message of Christ. A message that in spite of our self delusions, God knows that there is something worth redeeming even in the the most broken of times, of actions.... and of peoples lives.
In order to help individuals and families prepare for the "Christmas Season" Spiritual Guidance plans need to be made in October and offered in November, (if not earlier.)
"How to Celebrate a Spiritual Christmas" is talked about as soon as Halloween is finished. This is when many people are deciding how their family will celebrate Christmas.
The message of the church can be strong and clear during this time. Church leaders need to spend September and October planning and preparing!
• A Sermon Series on "A Faithful Holiday Celebration" during the first three Sundays of November can remind people of the deeper meaning offered to us by God. A traditional "Advent" theme could be used: "Prepare Ye!"
• Advent Calendars, Home Prayer rituals and activities, people planning together informed by faith values and not on impulse or nostalgia can be emphasized.
• "Alternative Giving" options can be offered. (And don't forget that for some in need, money is the ultimate blessing. They become a personal mission outreach.)
• Parents and Grand-Parents need guidance in cutting through the massive, consumer-driver snow storm of toy commercials.
• Financial Guidance and the dangers of over-spending and Credit Card debt are also themes worth exploring. What are the real priorities of the Season?
The secular "Christmas Season" is from Thanksgiving through Christmas Day.
Afterwards, almost immediately, Christmas is packed away, lights are turned off and end of year sales and New Year's Eve takes over.
The Challenge of the Church is to tell the Christmas Story (The birth and it's meaning) ALL during ADVENT. This way people can talk about it with family, friends, co-workers during the whole month of celebration. Don't wait until Christmas Eve to share the message about the Kingdom of God / of Heaven. By then it's too late!
To be more than just another "attraction" during the season the church needs to offer some "reality" to the consumer binge.
• A "Christmas Prayer Service", "Longest Night" or "Blue Christmas" Service speaks the message that not everyone is happy and cheerful. Not all stories have a happy ending. Tragedy, death, brokenness and loss is as common during December as it is another time of year.
• Commercials and Christmas Gift lists encourage a "What's in it for me?" attitude. Significant compassion and caring projects for others offer priceless family memories that are not forgotten.
• Concerts, Pageants, a "Nativity/ Bethlehem Walk", Christmas Parties, and other such activities can be filled with well-prepared church leaders who can identify those in spiritual need, approach them and offer them an encounter with a vulnerable Christ-child filled with real unconditional love.
• The "Elf on the Shelf" promotes a "naughty or nice" thinking in children. "It's really about others" is the original Saint Nicolas message, a gospel that the Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven has arrived and we are it's citizens spreading that Good News - "Gospel."
Resources for a faith-filled Christmas:
Start small and do what you can do...
• The Advent Conspiracy: a full fledged plan to offer an alternative to a consumer Christmas
• The Heifer Project: Long time and highly respected charity.
• The Alternative Gift Catalog: AGI is a non-profit organization which inspires support for humanitarian and environmental causes.
• Mennonite Central Committee: "25 Ways to GIVE @ Christmas"
• Habitat for Humanity: Building homes for those who need them with "sweat equity."
• An "Angle Tree Program" where less fortunate Children/Families/Individuals are "adopted" and specific, needed gifts are purchased, usually anonymously. (Also the Salvation Army has a national Angel Tree Program )
• "It's Not Your Birthday" by Michael Slaughter A great study with lots of 'Alternative Chrideas.
• Prepare Your Church for Christmas Guests. Christmas has proven to be the most likely time people will give your church a try. Are you ready for them?
• "Jesus' Wish List" Sample Sermon from Yankee Pastor
• The Gift Economy Meditation: "Economy: Old and New" Richard Rohr