Who would have thought that Christmas would become a political hot button? Yet today, many Christians who have not shared Christ with merchants are incensed that these same merchants, many of whom are non-Christians, are not using thier stores to proclaim Christmas. Many Christians who have not shared Chrsit with clerks or sales people are incensed that these same clerks, who may not be Christians, are not saying "Merry Christmas". Many Christians who have not shared Christ with their city councilmen, school board members or teachers are incensed that these same people, who may not be Christians, are not keeping Christ in Christmas. Many Christians who cannot remember the last time that they said the words "Would you like to pray now to receive Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?" are incensed that those who they have not led to Christ are not keeping Christ in Christmas. The way we as Christians can insure that Christ is kept in Christmas is to insure that our neighbors, our merchants, our teachers and our politicians have heard the gospel of Christ from our lips.
As Christmas approaches, my heart turns more and more to the Incarnation of Christ and the great gift of Salvation which that afforded. Philippians 2:6-7 gives us a true picture of the sacrifice made by Godâ€™s only Son when He came to earth over 2,000 years ago by stating that Christ â€śwho, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.â€ť
It is important, though, to always keep before us that the incarnation of Christ cannot and should not be separated from the message of salvation. Verse eight goes on to say, â€śAnd being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.â€ť
The message of Christmas, the stand of the Christian, the high ground (so to speak) of the message of Christmas is and must always be the gospel of Christ, the message of salvation and not political activism. His coming and the sharing of the gospel of Christ are inseparable. As God the Holy Spirit puts it so well in John 1:11-13, â€śHe came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.â€ť
Eleanor and I were talking about this as we shopped. I, like many Christians, have been concerned about the policy of many merchants to not allow their workers to say â€śMerry Christmasâ€ť but rather the ubiquitous â€śHappy Holidays.â€ť As we discussed this, Eleanor made a good comment. She asserted that â€śthe way to keep Christ in Christmas is not to boycott merchants but instead lead them to Christ.â€ť This really struck a chord with me and greatly ministered to my heart.
I have often exhorted others that it is not the duty of the non-Christian world to guard and preserve the doctrines of our faith but rather the church and more specifically the individual Christians who comprise the Church. Equally true, it is not the duty of non-Christian merchants to keep Christ as the centrality of Christmas but rather it is our responsibility to do this. What then is the key to keeping Christ the centrality of Christmas? Nothing less than for Christians to give a clear and ever-present witness of the gospel of salvation to those around them, including asking for a decision. Eliminating materialism from Christmas will not do this. Forcing all stores to decorate for Christmas and say â€śMerry Christmasâ€ť will not do this. Requiring all public schools to put â€śMerry Christmasâ€ť on their marquees will not do this. What will do this is when you and I share the message of salvation openly, aggressively and frequently with the merchants, teachers and neighbors around whom we live and move. This is the key to keeping Christ the center of Christmas â€“ our verbal witness of the message of salvation.
The issue is not whether non-Christian merchants, politicians and educators will keep the message of Christmas alive but rather will Christians continue to ask â€śWould you like to pray with me now to receive Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?â€ť For to do this, Christians must first present a clear presentation of the gospel, one which requires a response by the listener.
Having said this I would like to share with you some of the things we have done to keep Christ the centrality of Christmas.
1. The Word of God - A number of helps for your personal edification, your family or your Sunday school class or small group Bible study can be found on our website by following the link to http://gciweb.org/2011/07/holidays-resources/.
- Now is an excellent time to begin the habit of personal time alone with God in the Word and prayer each day. Now is the perfect time to begin the habit of a family devotional time at the evening meal. It is our hope and prayer that the tools contained on the GCI website will help you and your family begin a lifelong discipline of daily time spent in the Word and in prayer.
2. World Vision - Christmas is about Christ who came into the world to save sinners. How can we celebrate Christmas without including a vision for the world and world missions in our celebration? This coming week Eleanor and I will send out care packages to missionaries and national pastors throughout the world.
3. Evangelism - Candy Canes: Each year we give out over 50 candy canes with the gospel attached through the â€śLegend of the Candy Cane.â€ť We keep these by the front door and anyone which the Lord brings our way, for whatever the reason, is sure to hear a short word of testimony and receive one of these candy canes with the gospel attached. It is not uncommon for us to see the Postal Carrier, UPS, FedEx driver, meter reader, utility reader or delivery man sitting in his cab, nibbling on his candy cane and reading the message of the gospel before continuing his rounds. With it always comes an opportunity for a verbal witness of Christ, sometimes short, sometimes long but a witness never-the-less.
- Church Banquet: Each year our church puts on a Christmas banquet and a part of this is always a clear presentation of the gospel of Christ with an opportunity to trust Christ as your personal savior. Our neighbors Armando and Laura come each year to this event. In fact, it is the only Christian event they attend that I know of. Each year we pray that this will be the Christmas they come to Christ. Each year we have them over for coffee to discuss the message of salvation. Each year it opens future doors for future discussions with them, their children and their extended family.
- Recruiting Station: In the same shopping center as the Starbucks where Rob Stephens and I meet for fellowship and time over the Word is a military recruiting station. The Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps all have offices there. This week Eleanor and I will take over a â€śChristmas Office Party/Coffee Breakâ€ť to each of these branches of service. With this comes the message of salvation through the â€śLegend of the Candy Cane.â€ť We do this every year and last time a number inquired as to our church. I feel a real door is open now to a Bible study. As we ministered, I could not decide if the tears and choked words of thanks were from our bringing Christ to their office or because of Elâ€™s tears as she expressed her thanks and prayers for them and their fellow servicemen. Whatever the case, it was a great opportunity to put Christ as the centrality of Christmas.
- Deployed Marines: This coming week I send boxes of supplies, including Bibles and books, to Marines deployed in Afganistan and Iraq. For me, this ministry is not about politics but rather about young men, far from home, doing their duty before God and country.
- Merchants: It is my habit each year on the 23rd of December to wrap New Testaments in Christmas paper and then deliver them to the merchants we frequent. Then a week later, right before the first of the year, I return and encourage them as their â€śNew Years Resolutionâ€ť to read the New Testament. Last but not least, I ask the question, â€śHas anyone ever shown you the illustration that is the key to understanding the Bible?â€ť If their answer is â€śNo,â€ť then I have the opportunity to draw the Bridge To Life gospel illustration on the inside cover of their gift New Testament and then give them an opportunity to trust Christ.
- Christmas Eve: We have our big family dinner on Christmas Eve. The first year we were married we had our big dinner Christmas day, and El spent the whole morning and afternoon in the kitchen. I thought to myself, â€śThat is the last time El will work on Christmas Day!â€ť So we now have our meal on Christmas Eve, and El gets Christmas Day off with the rest of us. A tradition which we began while in the University Ministry which we have continued is to invite non-Christians, especially internationals, who are away from home, to share Christmas Eve dinner with us. Here they experience the true love of Christ, the true meaning of Christmas and hear the gospel of Christ. If you do not know any internationals, then call the local recruiting station, ask to speak to the Master Sergeant, then ask him if there are any enlisted men alone for the holidays and have one or two over.
I share these few illustrations with you simply to stimulate your thinking. It is true that in our culture today a real understanding of the meaning of Christmas â€“ the message of salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ - is indeed lacking. It is equally true that what satan would have us do in response to this is to be angry and strike out at non-Christians. What God would have us do is to love them and openly and clearly give them the opportunity to receive Christ through a clear and verbal presentation of the gospel of Christ. A presentation which always includes the opportunity to pray. As God the Holy Spirit so clearly teaches us in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, â€śand the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.â€ť
This Christmas pray for Eleanor and I that Christ might be kept the centrality of Christmas by the frequent and fervent asking of this simple question, â€śWould you like to pray now to receive Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?â€ť
I close this email as always with a deep and abiding thankfulness for your sacrificial and effectual prayers which empower and drive this ministry ever forward in the cause of Christ.
By His mercy, II Corinthians 4:1 Rev. John S. Mahon Grace Community Int. (Bodies in Houston, hearts in Heaven, minds preparing for Russia)