For the Love of God Rethink Christmas

December 23, 2008 by

We recently talked about God’s bailout plan, and I brought up the point that some churches are doing some pretty dumb things, especially in relation to Christmas. The one that really hit a chord with me was this: an archbishop who gave churches “some pastoral insights and suggestions about how we might prepare to celebrate Christmas this year when economic conditions are so grim.”

At first glance, it seems benign. At second glance, however, there is a deep, deep issue. How far off do we have to be if the celebration of a baby born in dirt and straw can be impacted by economic conditions?

“As the Grinch himself learned, Christmas doesn’t come from a store—but it’s up to churches to show people that it means a lot more.”

I think Jesus would be heartbroken (or even angry) that churches so often remain silent on the frivolity of Black Friday or having a fully-stocked living room on Christmas morning while so many are in such desperate need.

Sometimes, I worry that we’re more committed to Santa Claus than Christ himself around this time of year.

Real World Examples

A story to illustrate my point—recently, at a local church Christmas production, the show climaxed with Santa Claus coming out in a sleigh with presents to sing a little diddy about how Jesus is the reason for the season.

Sorry Santa, but you sit on a throne of lies. If Jesus were still the reason for the season, you’d be out of business.

A different church I attended lamented the woes of taking the capital C out of Christmas. Unfortunately, my experience shows that you’re 76 times more likely to find a church out causing a ruckus because someone said “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” than you are to find a church causing a ruckus because this annual rat race is ending with people trampled on the Wal-Mart floor.

Even the Boston Globe can spot the disturbing truth: “On this Black Friday in Long Island, consumerism looked more like modern idolatry.”

The Solution?

I take you on those little journeys so I can propose an answer to what I believe churches should be doing around Christmas in the midst of a down-turn, and it’s pretty simple: Redefine Christmas.

Initiatives like Advent Conspiracy are making headway, but more needs to be done. There is a problem, and it’s deep. It’s not just personal or societal or cultural. It’s a pandemic. Men are born with sin, and marketers all-too-often use that sin to make a buck. That’s where church marketers come in.

We have the task of communicating the tough message that so much of this Christmas we have built is a lie. We can try and explain Santa Claus, Christmas trees, gift-giving, candy canes and reindeer poop as Christian traditions, one rung below the sacraments on the ladder of righteousness.

(One aside: I have to give a hat tip to churches who are successfully moving toward this already. Operation Christmas Child, Angel Food Ministries and Angel Tree come to mind.)

There’s a harsh reality that the 15 pounds we gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s comprise enough food to save many, many lives. And the old clothes we throw out to make way for the new could clothe the homeless on those cold, winter nights. When we support the Christmas craze—implicitly or explicitly—we communicate that we don’t care.

Practical Ideas

Here are my humble ideas for what your church ought to be doing. I’ll start most radical and go on down to the suggestions for the faint of heart:

  • Move Christmas. Choose a day, and tell them your congregation you will take that time to celebrate together what happened in the manger 2,000 years ago. You might still have a candlelight service and tell the Christmas story or observe traditions focused on Christ, but Santa, gifts and blinking lights can have their usual October to December time slot.
  • Stop celebrating Christmas. Just give it up all together. Challenge your congregation to live the whole year in “the Christmas spirit” and come out against the consumerism of it all. Challenge people not to go in debt for that toy or trinket. If you don’t want to stop celebrating, at least challenge them to stop gift-giving or only give homemade gifts.
  • Give Financial Peace University. Careful planning, saving and spending will allow your congregation to be more generous than ever. Encourage them to give a Financial Peace University course as a gift, or better yet, offer it as a Christmas gift to your congregation. Christmas would be a great time to get out of debt instead of into it.
  • Celebrate the 12 days of Christmas by serving. Coordinate a Christmas service project for your church. Give money to someone in the community who has medical expenses and can’t celebrate Christmas so they can have a better chance to celebrate next Christmas together. Clean up a park. Take on twelve projects, and invite everyone to participate as often as possible. Culminate with a big project on Christmas Day in lieu of traditional Christmas morning antics.
  • Preach hope. At the very, very least, you should be preaching hope. Hope isn’t a friend of fools, so people shouldn’t be taking payday loans at 500% interest to cover the cost of their presents, but they should know that there is a God who wants to save them from this craziness. If you have to use a lame pun in your sermon title, so be it (although I would prefer you not). But there is only one place people can turn for hope, and they need to drive the opposite direction of Wal-Mart for it.

More from Christmas

As the Grinch himself learned, Christmas doesn’t come from a store—but it’s up to churches to show people that it means a lot more.

So for the love of God, let’s rethink Christmas.

More:

  • Need help doing Christmas right? The church marketing Christmas elves are ready to help. We’ve got church Christmas ideas for help with planning, promotion and inspiration, as well as stress-reduction and keeping Christmas in perspective.
Post By:

Joshua Cody


Josh Cody served as our associate editor for several years before moving on to bigger things. Like Texas. These days he lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, and you can find him online or on Twitter when he's not wrestling code.
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16 Responses to “For the Love of God Rethink Christmas”

  • Danny
    December 23, 2008

    I was thinking the same thing walking through walmart two nights ago. We were buying 10-15 dollar presents for the 25ish people that we have to buy for, not a bit of it does anyone in our family need. There is so much true need, and we’re giving each other crap. And it really, truly, bothered me. It gave me a bad feeling in my stomach. It really is pathetic .. and it’s all of us.
    If I did everything, even half of what you’re suggesting, I can see my family saying how ridiculous I was being .. and I can see about 20 people in our entire church getting on board ..
    We’re materialistic, and we found the perfect way to wrap Jesus around our obsession with getting stuff .. no way we’ll give it up now.


  • Jesse Phillips
    December 23, 2008

    Wow, bold post! I agree, but how will we ever get the rest of the Church on board with this?
    Thank you, Joshua!


  • Brian La Croix
    December 24, 2008

    I love the Financial Peace idea. We’ve taught it before (and my wife and I had taken it before then), and we have a number of kits left over.
    I’ll talk to our board about giving that course for free.
    Thanks for thinking of that!


  • Alisha
    December 24, 2008

    We actually dropped the gift giving thing about 5 years ago (back when everyone’s finances were okay, including ours), and, like Danny’s comment suggests, we were met with complaints from family. We had also explained to them that we didn’t want/need gifts from them, we’re adults and we’re well equipped. Basically, we were sick of all the materialism and didn’t want to find more room for random accumulation. We still participated in and recognised Christmas otherwise.
    They thought we were hiding that we were poor (which was not remotely the case), thought that we were being cheap/insensitive (no), or thought that we were trying to attract attention through pity (huh?). So what happened? They continue to give us gifts, even though we still haven’t given to them.
    We’ve done our part to change the tide, but our entire family still think we’re nuts or zealots–or even somehow being sacriligious by not giving loads of presents on Christmas. I’m afraid American Christianity is way too influenced by the consumer/materialistic/corporate mindset to see it any other way.


  • seanPdesign
    December 24, 2008

    For the love of God lets not rethink it.
    to often this site and church marketers want to re-invent themselves, make new, make shiny, but its all flash and NO substance, much like this web site.
    The Grinch learned that Xmas wasn’t about the toys and the treats and the lights and the tree. What did he learn? He learned that Xmas was a time for gathering as one, and celebrating something that happened a long time ago, but even more than celebrating Christ’s birth, its about celebrating Joy, Happiness, Family, Friends, Love, Giving, and FUN! Its about fellowship. It IS about getting together with loved ones!
    Christ said You will always have the poor, but I will not always be here. What the heck do you think he meant? Sure we should give to the poor, feed them, clothe them, and all that Jazz, but guess what, we will always have the poor. Do it, but don’t lose focus. Your mom isn’t always gonna be around, Nana might die next year, your sister, your brother, your uncle your cousin, could be gone tomorrow. Xmas is here! Celebrate with them, give them gifts, love on them!
    Giving a gift that if from the heart, matters to the recipient takes more time, courage, love and true intimacy then showing up with a huge sack of crap, or even writing a big fat check to a social cause, and dare I say more so than plopping some mashed potatoes on some homeless person’s plate. Not exchanging gifts with your family IS arrogant, self-centered, narcissistic and just wrong. Its not the amount of money that matters, its the amount of love and thoughtfulness that does. Not participating in Xmas or xmas giving roots come from a desire to feel better about yourself, not making someone else feel better. God wants us to not worry about self, but our friends, our family, our loved ones. You will always have the poor.
    The bible is chalk full of holidays and celebrations. God is all about it. Look at the Jews, take some notes. Learn from them. For the love of God read the bible. Holidays are a good thing. For the love of God read a history book and understand the meanings of each Xmas symbol before you open your big dumb mouth and out pops a steamy pile of BS.
    In history religion, religions have been more successful when adapting pagan traditions to conform to their beliefs. Many many many Jewish and Christian traditions were adapted from pagan traditions, not just the well known traditions of Xmas and Easter.
    So please, leave Xmas alone, in fact celebrate it with more vigor and joy! Just celebrate the real meanings, and have fun. Liberals don’t know what fun is, best not to listen to Jp Cody and Hendricks if you want to enjoy life and have real lasting fun.
    Merry Christmas. I’m going home to gather around the tree, drink some martineli’s, eat some bird and cookies, give some gifts, sing some songs, and be merry! Hope you do the same. God bless you all.


  • Steve
    December 27, 2008

    I still believe that even in the midst of all the commercialism and uproar over Christmas these days, it is still a wonderful opportunity to tell people of the greatest gift ever given. At our church we played the clip from the Charlie Brown Christmas special where Linus reads Luke Chapter 2. It provides a great opportunity to present a simple gospel message. Our Christmas Eve services are always filled with people who have not yet made the connection that the real reason for Christmas is Jesus. Celebrating the day gives us opportunities that we may not get otherwise.


  • Megan Miles
    December 28, 2008

    My church used the Sunday before Christmas to celebrate giving. Single parent families received gift cards; other families received game systems or games. Many people in the congregation donated money to help others in need. I know it’s contained within one church, but it’s a start!


  • Tim C
    December 28, 2008

    I would much rather see the world in a frenzy of any kind however distantly related in the birth of Jesus, than to have even one less reason to at least hear of His birth, or even His name. What is next, a movement from within the Church to call the Christmas celebration a holiday celebration so as not to pollute Christ’s birth with a season where people seek to please others with gifts and large feasts among families and friends?


  • Jason
    December 28, 2008

    I disagree with this article. Don’t change Christmas. There is NOTHING wrong with people enjoying their families. Nothing at all. Putting an end to gift giving could be compared with calling attention to yourselves much like the Pharisees who made sure people knew they were fasting, praying, or giving money.
    If your family decides to cut back and not spend as much money on Christmas, great, more power to you. But don’t use it to call attention to yourselves.
    It is more than possible to help the poor and still make Christmas time a very pleasant and enjoyable time for your family. I showered my family with gifts to the best of my financial ability (without going into debt), and I loved every minute of it… the smiles on their faces were 100% worth it.
    But our church still did things to spread the message of Christ for Christmas. We adopted a family of 4 kids who’s parents couldn’t afford gifts, and made sure they had a great Christmas. We spent time at Nursing homes singing to the people there. We delivered snack trays to local fire departments. We did lots of other things individually as well.
    Too many churches want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when they come up with ideas to make things more holy.
    All that does is make outsiders want to stay outside.


  • Kevin D. Hendricks
    December 30, 2008

    Honestly, I think some of you are missing the point. Josh never said it was bad to have a good time with your family or to celebrate. But the question is what are we celebrating and why are we having a good time? Is it the giant pile of toys or is it Jesus?
    It’s very easy for the materialism to outshine Jesus and the stress of the season to wipe out your joy. If that’s happening to you (as I think it is to many people), then let’s rethink it. If it’s not happening to you, great. But don’t call the rest of us Scrooge because we’re trying to get back to Jesus.


  • Bill (cycleguy)
    December 31, 2008

    Great post! The church I pastor really came through big time this December. Actually since october. We worship in a rented facility that has been flooded twice in the past 4 years, this last one causing property loss on our part. So we had a special 4th anniversary offering in October. Following on the heels of that was Operation Christmas Child, a fund-raiser for Haiti, Angel Tree (local CPC involving 24 families all gone in one day), money needed for our Children’s program (over $600) and a last minute plug for Advent Conspiracy (over $400 as I write this), and then a Christmas morning breakfast for the community. We are having a Christmas in February to benefit Living Waters and a local outreach effort. That…from the second poorest county in Indiana. These people were totally awesome while still celebrating their own Christmas. However, if it was like my family’s it was slimmer. I personally asked that my family cut my gift giving to one thing and give the rest of the money they would have spent on me to me so I could send it somewhere (either Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch or Living Waters. They did and I was a happy camper.


  • seanPdesign
    December 31, 2008

    When you say things like: Move Christmas. Stop Celebrating. There isn’t much left to interpret or miss.
    When you aren’t so full of yourselves and decide to stop preaching and start doing, you might actually be a website worth listening to. As of right now, its a blog, full of hot air, bad ideas, terrible advice, and borderline heretical gibberish.
    Someone has to point it out, and someone has to say you are so very wrong there is no way you are close to being right.
    Stop with the leftist agenda, its humanistic, narcissistic, and bad for christianity AND any society. Do what is right by the word, not by what people feel about you.


  • Zach
    January 6, 2009

    The Angel Tree program is an excellent program, and our church has actually hosted the breakfast events in years past. It’s one thing to take a number from a tree and return with some wrapped gifts, but it’s another entirely to see those families’ faces when they receive the gifts that have been thoughtfully purchased for them. You cannot — CANNOT — repeal confirmation that their hope brought about fruition. The moment a child’s eyes light up upon seeing the gift, before it’s ever opened, is worth thousands more than what you actually spent on it.
    I highly recommend that everyone, at least once, find a church doing the Angel Tree program or one of the many other Christmas chartiy programs and get involved. You won’t believe how your perspective will change.


  • Ken Satterfield
    January 6, 2009

    A couple of thoughts:
    1) Our church (FBC Jefferson City, MO) launched a site called http://www.simplechristmas.org. The idea is to shift priorities. I think the real test of that will bear fruit when people do more than give lip service and actually act intentionally.
    2)Associated Baptist Press has run some stories along these lines. One is about the genesis of our site, but another is a proposal by Mike McKinney at Leawood Baptist Church, Kansas City, KS that essentially shifts the Christian Christmas emphasis to start on Christmas day and continue through January 5. (The proposal is posted at http://www.leawoodbaptist.com) It’s something to generate discussion and could encourage Christians to do the ministries at a time after the secular world has gone back to post-Christmas activities.


  • Di
    January 7, 2009

    Great post. These same ideas apply to the office celebrations as well.
    Years ago, I found exchanging gifts among co-workers to be a big challenge. Inevitably I gave someone a gift who didn’t give me one – the next year it was reversed. And, like Danny said above, the gifts exchanged were basically of little value and given to people who didn’t need or want more junk in their lives.
    One year, a co-worker and I suggested rather than exchange gifts, we donate to a charitable organization or family in need. We were amazed at how begrudgingly this went over with the rest of the office. Even more sad was the fact that we all were Christians employed at a parochial high school!
    I now am a self-employed graphic designer and appreciate making my own “administrative decisions” during the holidays. I make two obvious decisions each year.
    #1. I send out holiday cards, which I design myself, of course, since I am a designer, after all. My cards always focus on Christmas and the celebration of Christ’s birth. While many of my clients are religious organizations, I also have many that are not. Interestingly, I’ve never alienated any that I know of by my expressions and I’ve often received compliments.
    #2. I have several exceptional customers I wish to acknowledge even further at Christmas, not particularly for business purposes but because we work well together and successfully achieve our common goal. For these customers, I make donations in their honor to charities/churches that match their interests. This has proven to be a well-appreciated means of gift-giving.


  • Once a year we celebrate our Lord’s birthday. December 26th is most likely not the correct date.. that does not bother me… we are celebratng Our Lord’s birthday! This one time of year people treat each other thoughtfully! Whether you make or select items as gifts for each other its a good thing.. and I’m happy we do it. I think we have become a lot more comercial with it than we should be.. too much money spent! BuI wouldn’t take any of this away from folks! A lot of good comes from all of it! !!And we are celebrating our Lord’s birthday



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