A couple of years ago, Pew Research conducted a poll of a random selection of people in our country regarding their thoughts about Christmas. The encouraging news is that 92% of those who were sampled say that they celebrate Christmas. The discouraging news is that only half of those said that they view Christmas as a religious holiday.
Here are some other results from the survey. Attending Christmas Eve services is on the decline. It has gone from 69% to just 54%. This next statistic doesn’t really have a whole lot to do with my main message for today but I did find this other survey response interesting. Sending Christmas cards through the mail is also on the decline from 81% to now just 65% of us.
So just think about this. While the religious meaning of the Christmas holiday is gradually falling by the wayside, listen to how people responded to this other survey question. And again, this is from just a few years ago.
They asked people, “What do you like least about Christmas?” The top three responses were commercialism, all the extra shopping, and trying to get through all of the crowded stores.
I don’t know about you, but I find these Pew Research survey responses a bit contradictory. On one hand, we are seeing Christmas as less of a religious holiday and more of a secular holiday. But on the other hand, we are reacting more and more negatively toward the non-religious practices of the holiday such as commercialism.
The commercialism side of Christmas has really gotten out of hand for both the religious and the non-religious. That’s why I believe our scripture readings for this morning offer us a much better way of preparing for Christmas.
Writing hundred of years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah, speaking to a very tired and weary people wanted them to know that something incredibly wonderful would happen to them. God was about to turn their darkness into light. The people would be able to experience joy and hope.
God will send a child who will be born unto them. All authority will rest upon his shoulders and he will be known as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This child will continue the throne of David and he will uphold it with justice and righteousness.
It is no coincidence that when Jesus began his public ministry hundreds of years after these words were first spoken, that he said that he came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Helping people who are struggling to find hope and freedom from despair is at the heart of the Christmas story. But somehow, we as a culture have lost sight of the true meaning of this season. Instead of it being about Jesus’ presence, we have made it about getting presents under the tree.
That’s why this Season of Advent and preparation is so important for us during these weeks leading up to Christmas. This is a time for us to reclaim the true meaning of Christmas.
The way we reclaim Christmas is the really fun part in all of this. We reclaim Christmas by allowing God to use us to make a difference in the world. God didn’t send us Jesus so that we can sit back and sing Christmas carols. God sent us Jesus so that we would become his followers and live out his mission of bringing transformation to our community and world in very real and practical ways.
The story of God becoming human in the person of Jesus is the miracle of all miracles. But what’s even greater than that is in how God continues to work through ordinary people like you and me to make a difference in the lives of others.
The question is if we are willing to sacrifice some of our own comfort for the good of others. That’s what is involved in having great expectations this Christmas.
Everything about our culture tells us that Christmas is about us. Maybe this is a year when we can reclaim these words of Isaiah and offer good news to people who are walking in the darkness of unemployment, the darkness of poverty, the darkness of loneliness or some other kind of darkness. Christmas is about how God’s light can remove the darkness in people’s lives.
I enjoyed reading Pope Francis’s ten-point outline plan for happiness. It was released a couple of years ago to celebrate his first five hundred days in office. Coming in at number two on his list of being happy is to give yourself to others.
Pope Francis is constantly reminding people that charity shouldn’t stop at giving money to help others. Charity should also include giving one’s time to someone who needs it. He says that if we think of only ourselves, we run the risk of living stagnant lives.
Who are the people who are waiting to see a great light? Is God calling you to share Christmas light to someone in need? These are important questions for us during these weeks of Advent if we want to reclaim the true meaning of Christmas.
In one of the churches I served during the time leading up to Christmas, we helped a man who was in his 50s. If anything can help us keep shine Christmas light a little brighter this year, it would be this man’s letter. Here’s what he wrote and these are totally his words:
“I receive disability and both kids live with me right now. Me and my wife separated a year ago and in February, we learned that our son who was 5 at the time was being sexually abused by a cousin.
My wife had a mental breakdown and had to stay in a hospital for a while and we both agreed that it would be best for the kids to live with me but while my wife was in and out of the hospitals, me and the kids were homeless and we stayed in a shelter for a couple of months and recently received help to get me and my kids into an apartment.
From April to July, me and the kids have lived in a tent, took baths in creek water, cook food over an open fire. Community Action helped us get into an apartment.
In September, I had a heart attack and found out I have a big blood clot in my heart. They say I have not got much time so I hope that this Christmas will be a good one for me and the kids. The kids and I don’t have much but at least we have a home thanks to people who have helped us.”
I called this dad to let him know that I received his letter and that our church was glad to help them for Christmas. I offered him words of support and shared in a prayer with him, reminding him that God was with him and that God loved him.
After I hung up the phone, I remember thinking that Christmas never felt more real to me than it did in that moment. And I know it had something to do with our church shining a little Christmas light for this family.
I have learned over the years that shining God’s light doesn’t have to be all that complicated. It’s just a matter of being open to those nudges and seeing what God will do in and through us.
If you received a Sunday bulletin this morning, I left a space after the order of worship where you can list three or four items for your Christmas wish list this year. Next to each Christmas wish, you might want to write down at least one specific way that you can be part of making that wish come true in somebody’s life.
It might include volunteering to hand out hot chocolate to students who will be walking by our church building during finals week. Remember, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. It might be doing a simple thing like offering your time and just being there for someone in the midst of their darkness.
Sometime before leaving church today or even by the end of this week, share your list with at least one other person or with the members of your small group. Invite them to share their wish list with you and offer encouragement.
I also want you to know about our church-wide Christmas wish list. For Christmas this year, our church has great expectations to financially support our Christmas missions offering which will be used to help build a home for a needy family through Habitat for Humanity. Next Sunday, a representative from the Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio will be sharing with us about this house that we are going to help build. By giving to our Christmas offering, we are going to be able to keep shining Christmas light throughout the year.
Our expectations are related to our views on the true meaning of Christmas. Is Christmas about us or is it really about what God can accomplish in and through us? Is Christmas really just about going shopping or is it about bringing God’s light to where there is darkness? What sacrifices will we need to make so that the good news of Christmas will help others experience transformation in their lives?
This past summer, Penny and I bought lights for our deck. We strung them around the boards that surround our deck. It looked beautiful when we had them on during the evening hours.
We hosted an evening event at our house and we were looking forward to showing off our deck lights to everyone. When we plugged in those lights for that special occasion, there was this big popping sound. The string of lights were now broken. We were so disappointed! We wanted our company to enjoy those lights around our deck.
The next day, we talked about replacing those string of lights. We decided to not get the same kind of lights that went out. Penny said, “We should just get a string of Christmas lights like you wrap around the tree. Those lights are what we probably need.”
She was right. Our new Christmas lights that now wrap around our deck have worked a lot better than the other kind of lights. We are literally shining the light of Christmas out on our deck.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we are reminded to shine Christmas light by serving others and to make their Christmas a lot brighter. This is the true meaning of Christmas, not the shallow understanding of Christmas that is so much part of our culture.
Christmas is about great expectations. It’s about a prophet who announces to a disheartened people that God will send a child who will be known as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This year, let’s reclaim Christmas. May this season be a time where we allow God to use us to bring light to those who are in darkness. Let’s shine the light of Christmas and make a difference in people’s lives.
You know, sometimes I wonder what is the most important part of the worship service. Is it the singing of our favorite hymns? Is it the great music? Is it the above average sermons?
No. All of those things are important. Don’t get me wrong.
The best part of the worship service is at the very end when the acolyte carries the light of Christ out of the room. That is such a powerful reminder to each one of us that whenever we leave this place, we too are called to shine the light of Christmas wherever we go.
Church, for Christmas this year, let’s shine our light!
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