What about Christmas?
What do you teach your kids about Christmas? It’s a…
For many members of Churches of Christ, Christmas once meant decorated trees, colorfully wrapped gifts and Santa Clauses all around — but definitely no mention of baby Jesus.
Mistletoe was welcome, but mangers certainly were not, in a fellowship that marked Dec. 25 as a secular holiday but purposely never sang “Joy to the World” after about mid-November.
Related: What about Christmas?
In recent years, though, many congregations have become much more willing to reflect on the story of Jesus’ birth at a time when the world is focused on him, The Christian Chronicle found in a query of more than 100 ministers and members nationwide
“We in the Churches of Christ have long held that we have it ‘right’ according to the Bible,” said Lantz Howard, youth minister for the Bright Angel Church of Christ in Las Vegas. “Well … the Gospels do talk about the birth of Jesus.
“I am sure that God the father of Christ was jumping for joy on that day,” Howard added. “So we, too, can jump for joy.”
Jim Hackney, minister for the Heritage Church of Christ in Keller, Texas, said Churches of Christ “missed out on a lot” by not observing Christmas in any kind of religious way.
“However, over the years, we have been able to change that,” Hackney said. “Visitors come to our church on Christmas expecting to hear about the birth of Jesus. We don’t disappoint them. It’s too important to reach out in a positive way at that time.”
But some remain steadfastly opposed to connecting Christ with Christmas.
Glynna Hartman, a member of the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, has been known to walk out of service to avoid singing “Silent Night” at Christmas after ignoring it the rest of the year.
A Christian for more than 60 years, Hartman blames churches’ increasing comfort with Christmas on “secularism creeping into a congregation.” While her family exchanges holiday gifts, she refrains from calling it “Christmas.”
“I am very careful about using God’s name and Christ’s name because I don’t want to put it in vain,” she said.
E. Dean Kelly, minister for the Highland Home Church of Christ in Alabama, said he has no problem preaching about Jesus’ birth 52 weeks a year. However, if it’s in the holiday season, he’ll stress that Christmas is not a biblical holiday, he said.
Instead, Kelly said he explains that Christians are told to celebrate the savior’s death, burial and resurrection with the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.
“I am grieved that so many are being drawn into thinking like and imitating the denominational world around us,” Kelly said. “It is a fact that we are not told to celebrate the birth of Jesus, though it is a very important fact of Scripture.”
But he said, “To keep a holiday as a civil and personal holiday is not unscriptural nor sinful — unless we cause ourselves to offend our conscience.”
FOR PAGANS OR PREACHERS?
Christmas, or “Christ’s Mass,” was adopted in the fourth century by Roman Emperor Constantine to encourage a common religious festival for Christians and Pagans.
Growing up in Caldwell, Idaho, John Free said his parents and grandparents taught him that Christmas was “something for Catholics and the denominations that did not embrace the idea that the silence of the Scriptures was to be respected as much as the precise words of the Scripture.”
But Free said the Sunny Hills Church of Christ in Fullerton, Calif., where he serves as an elder, views Christmas as a time to celebrate Jesus’ birth and tell his story.
“So Christmas carols are sung in our worship service on the Sunday closest to Christmas, and the sermons typically focus on that part of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke,” hesaid. “There is usually a disclaimer that we really don’t know when Jesus was born, but that is about as far as we go to reassure our more conservative members.”
Glover Shipp, a former longtime missionary who is an elder for the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma, said he has mixed feelings about how to approach Christmas.
“To celebrate Christmas without Christ, making Santa the chief person in it, doesn’t make sense,” Shipp said. “However, it may not make sense to bow to the mixture of Pagan and Catholic traditions about Christmas.”
HEY, IS THAT AN EASTER DRESS?
Amy Smith, office assistant for the Nashua Church of Christ in New Hampshire, recalls that her family didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter as religious holidays. Her mother would make her a new dress around Easter, she said.
“But I wouldn’t wear it for the first time on Easter Sunday, so as not to confuse my friends that I might be celebrating Easter,” said Smith, who likes that her congregation embraces both holidays as opportunities.
Lora Isenberg, communications director for the Rochester Church of Christ in Rochester Hills, Mich., said she, too, experienced the “don’t talk about Jesus” approach.
“I’m grateful to be worshiping at a church now that takes a different approach and uses this holiday to celebrate Jesus’ birth and, in turn, reach out to the community,” Isenberg said.
As a boy, Tom Riley, minister for the Canyon Church of Christ in Anthem, Ariz., sold enough Christmas cards to earn a tool belt one year and a BB gun the next.
“For some of my most devout Christian customers, I knew to show them the secular cards,” Riley said. “Santa and Frosty hit the spot.”
These days, Riley’s congregation goes Christmas caroling, and he said he has “developed a voracious appetite for study of the birth of Jesus around Christmas.”
“People want to celebrate what God did,” he said. “So I’ve tried many ways to use Christmas as a time of beautiful, simple, low-pressure outreach.”
Christmas decorations adorn the North Central Church of Christ in Indianapolis, where minister David Mangum said he develops messages themed around Jesus’ birth.
Similarly, the church focuses on moms on Mother’s Day and Christ’s resurrection on Easter, taking advantage of the calendar to reach the culture, Mangum said.
“I have long considered that it is not ‘unscriptural’ to read Luke 2 in December,” he said. Suggesting that it is “just makes us look more quirky, not more faithful.”
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