Many Christian ministers find the Christmas season particularly challenging. Not only is Christmas under attack by a secular movement that is gaining a more politically powerful voice, just as bad, church congregations are caught up in the commercialism of the “Christmas spirit” as pressured mindless consumerism.
I read an interesting article today on the internet that addressed the problem ministers have with getting their parishioners to think of the Christmas Advent as a transformative opportunity rather than a spending opportunity. Ministers have to tread lightly here or they will incur the wrath of their parishioners (and a slew of retailers). The mindset of the post-modern world is to reject any idea that makes them feel uncomfortable in any way.
Hell hath no fury like a scorned Christmas shopper!
So ministers have to settle with telling their parishioners what they want to hear—that the Lord’s coming into the world is “good” news because HE is going to save us in spite of ourselves—because He loves us. Christmas is a time for cheerfulness.
This reminds me how the Lord was praised and cheered when HE first entered triumphantly into Jerusalem but only days later the crowds had turned against Him. Why? Because the Lord did not bring the oppressed citizens the gifts they were expecting. In fact, Jesus said things that made everyone feel uncomfortable.
Church ministers are always careful not to become a doctrinal “Grinch” and stress only the positive on Christmas. When they deliver their sermons they emphasize that Christmas is a time to rejoice and remind us how we can all take part in this miraculous birth if we accept the Lord into our hearts. Parishioners find comfort in such a benign message. However, people are left with the oversimplified belief that good things will happen to them by some miraculous form of spiritual osmosis.
To offer deeper insights into the transformative Christmas message only opens a new can of ugly, squirming worms. I have visited churches in which the ministers knew well that by telling their congregation to take the baby Jesus into their hearts, they would be including the ongoing process by which the Lord’s message should grow and mature in a way that was symbolic of the Lord’s life and challenges on earth. In other words, the Lord struggled with the world in the same way that we must each struggle with our compulsions and negative behavior. But this is a pastoral no-no at Christmas.
The Lord came into the world to open up a can of worms—all the slimy, writhing things that interfere with our proper relationship with God. Sure, we are to rejoice that the Lord came into the world for our salvation. But the way most people now perceive the Christmas experience, any deeper message would only cause it to “rain on the parade” and the jubilation (jubilee once represented the celebration of spiritual restoration through works of repentance and piety).
Any thoughts? Any reactions?