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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.