December 14, 2017

Christmas … Again?

Wally Morris

Before entering the ministry full-time with pay, I worked for almost 13 years for Kmart. I learned a lot about working with people. Sadly, the hectic and unrelenting drive for sales also diminished my enthusiasm for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In retail sales, stores live for holidays. Stores use holidays to create excitement and boost regular sales. Preparations for “Black Friday”, the Friday after Thanksgiving, are extensive and thorough. And since Black Friday sales begin very early that day and no one has that day off, Thanksgiving is a very short holiday.

The Christmas season is very similar. The days immediately after Thanksgiving are usually very busy. Then by early December sales slow down until closer to Christmas. The days before Christmas are busy, and customers are not always in the best mood, especially when what they want is sold out. The couple of days after Christmas are also busy with refunds and gift card spending.

Immersion in this retail atmosphere tends to smother the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I was usually too tired to fully enjoy this special time of year. I suspect that is true of many who work in retail sales during the holidays.

I mention all of this because I wonder if we might be doing the same thing in our churches. When I was able to be in the ministry with a full-time paid position, I began to appreciate and love the holidays again. Yet I’ve noticed that, in some ways, churches seem like they are retail stores cashing in on holiday sales.

We are often so busy with Thanksgiving meals and preparation for special Christmas services, musical programs, and Christmas parties that perhaps we lose sight of what we are doing and why. And not just pastors and others in the ministry, but also the people in our churches who actually make the church “work”. Not only do people have church activities they feel they must be involved in but they also have family activities and gatherings which they have to squeeze into church schedules.

Sometimes I wonder: “Is all of this really necessary?” Must we have elaborate Christmas cantatas and dramas, individual Sunday School and age group Christmas parties, community evangelistic ministries such as singing in nursing homes, and other holiday-themed activities? Well, yes, we should have some of these, but do we need all of these? When Christmas is over, many Christians are exhausted, nostalgic for a “simpler” time.

For me personally, some of the most difficult sermons to prepare are those for Thanksgiving and Christmas. What can you say that you haven’t said before and that people haven’t heard before? My preaching is basically expositional, either verse by verse or topical exposition, where we look at a topic but also look expositionally at the major passages that relate to that topic. Once you have preached expositionally through the birth narratives, then “OK, now what?” And this comes in the middle of everything else the church does at Christmas.

I don’t have any easy answers. I’m just wondering: Is there a better way to express our thankfulness and to recognize the birth of Jesus Christ? Have we done what we’re doing for so long that we assume that what we do is normal and necessary? Maybe next year will be different. Maybe so, for pastoral sanity and church spirit.

Wally Morris is the pastor of Charity Baptist Church, Huntington, IN, and blogs at A Moment of Charity.

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