A pastor shares how his congregation takes the true meaning of Christmas to their community every December
by Steve Sjogren
Christmas is a loaded word for most of us. For followers of Jesus, of course, the deepest sense of the word has to do with God coming to earth in the form of a baby: "Immanuel," as the prophet Isaiah put it, "God with us." Many other pleasant images also come to mind when we say Christmas. A word-association quiz might come up with such thoughts as family dinners, candlelit services, firesides or carols. But let's face it: Christmas does have its other moments.
A second quiz might call to mind different images-things like crowded malls, traffic gridlock or irritating relatives.
Despite all the glorious aspects of the celebration of Christ's birth, there also is a tension in most of our lives about the Christmas season. Many of us suffer with a sense of guilt-brought on, I believe, by the selfish focus that has been built around the holiday season.
I'm not just talking about all the attention that's given to greed, gifts and gorging. There's also the less obvious inclination we have to think the Christmas story is just "for us."
The church's pure and joyous call, "Rejoice! Christ has come to us!"-while it is wonderful news to be celebrated-is only part of the message of Christmas. Immanuel, "God with us," means God also wants to be "with them"—through us.
A New Tradition
For several years, people from the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, which I pastor, have built a new tradition into their hearts. They have explored creative ways to take small deeds of love to the people in our city during the holidays.
We have continued to seek creative ways to gain an audience with the unchurched by serving our way into their lives year-round. We call this approach to sharing Christ servant evangelism.
At Christmastime, when people seem to be particularly vulnerable to thinking about spiritual issues, much can be done to build bridges to the unchurched. We stared when one of our members, a housewife, got eh idea that everybody needs their gifts wrapped at Christmas. "We could go to the mall and wrap presents for free!" she challenged.
We approached mall management about our gift-wrap "outreach." At first they were skeptical. "Tell us again," they asked. "Why do you want to do this for free?" We had several meetings before they finally gave us the nod. We invested about $3,000 in paper, tape, scissors, and bows and were enthusiastically on our way.
To the management's surprise, the project was a smashing success. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we wrapped presents for more than 10,000 customers. The mall received good publicity, and we were able to talk to a lot of people about when we were wrapping for free: to show God's love in a practical way!
For six holiday seasons, we have wrapped presents at that mall. Our credibility with the management has slowly risen each year.
Last Christmas season, when we wrapped 25,000 presents, the mall insisted on paying for the wrapping supplies. Now it pays for the materials—and we share with shoppers about God's love for them. What a deal! read more