How do we come to Christmas?
I recently heard a newscast that reported Americans are spending about $20 less per person this year than last year on Christmas gifts. Our average this year is about $680.
Then the newscaster said that 31 percent of Americans feel they are worse off economically this year than last. That same day, a news article found its way to my inbox with the headline, “Study Says Recession Catching Up to Churches.”
LifeWay Research shared that one in three Protestant churches reported receiving less money this year than in 2009, making 2010 the third consecutive year that the number of churches reporting reduced income has increased.
In a survey of 1,000 pastors polled in October, 66 percent said the economy is having a negative impact on their church. That’s up from 54 percent in March. A total of 46 percent said their churches are running behind budget, up 10 percent from last year.
Fifty-four percent reported freezing staff salaries this year, 16 percent delayed hiring that was planned, 14 percent reduced salaries from last year’s levels and 10 percent laid off one or more employees.
Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research president, said, “The pattern in churches tends to be tied more to unemployment than the stock market. Many churches are supported by people who give proportionately. When a high percentage of our congregations are unemployed, that impacts the giving.”
Many people having a hard time feel guilty that they can’t do what they’d like to do for the Lord financially. God understands and knows our hearts. Yet, others can and should support their local church because God’s work continues even in tough times.
Which somehow brings us back to Christmas. Christmas isn’t coming; Christmas is here, so let’s strive to take a break from bad news about tough times and hear again the good news of Christmas: there is hope because Jesus is born.
I like to study the personalities of the Christmas story. Interestingly, the shepherds were the first to hear of Jesus’ birth. These field hands were doing their duty in the middle of the night when the angel of the Lord broke through the monotony and announced the good news of Christmas. Notice how they came to Christmas.
First, they heard and responded. They initially responded with fear, but then, after the angelic chorus disappeared, they responded with action. They decided that they must go to Bethlehem and see this baby that caused such a stir.
Second, they hurried. Luke 2:15 records that they said, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to past.” They suddenly had to go to see the long awaited Messiah.
Then Luke 2:16 reported that they came with haste. There was no foot-dragging here. They wasted no time coming to Jesus.
Third, they discovered Mary and Joseph and the Babe lying in a manger. They evidently walked right in to this cave turned labor-and-delivery room. No nurses’ station, no hand washing, no doors, no locks. Jesus was right there, accessible and available to anyone who wishes to come to Jesus.
Fourth, they focused on Jesus. Luke 2:17 records that they had seen Him. Can you imagine the thoughts that went through their mind as they reflected on all the prophecies that foretold His coming, and now, here He was?
Fifth, they shared the news of Christmas with everyone they met (Luke 2:17). Good news is meant to be shared, and the shepherds made widely known all that they had seen and experienced.
The shepherds’ story reminds us that Christmas isn’t about how much you spend, or what gifts you give, or what you receive, or whether or not the recession is over. Christmas is good news. Our focus should be on celebrating Jesus. When you peel away all of the wrappings, trappings, marketing, and activities of this season, isn’t it really all about Jesus? It should be. It’s His birthday.
How will you come to Christmas? How will you focus on Jesus?
Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, GA. The church family meets at 352 McDonough Road and invites you to join them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. The Christmas eve candlelighting service is at 6 p.m. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org.