The Challenge

What is the meaning of Christmas?
As Christians, we should have plenty to say about this! There should be no confusion; however, we all might pick up on different aspects of the Christmas time that are meaningful to us. For some the Advent and Christmas time represents family, for others, it is about sharing joy, while still for others it might be an opportunity to re-engage with a community. Wherever you find your meaning during the Christmas time, hopefully, it leads you closer to the spirit of Emmanuel—God with Us.
Rev. Mike Slaughter, the appointed chief dreamer, and pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC has repeatedly explored the differences between the current practices of the church and the original intent of the gospel lessons. At times Rev. Slaughter has cut deep into our assumptions of what Christ’s message should look like; other times he has been a great encourager for the church to reclaim an identity of Christ in the 21st century. This season of Advent/Christmas holds traditions both inside and outside the church. The secular cultural understandings of these Holy Days rub up against the Christian proclamations of hope, peace, joy, and love. Hope, peace, joy, and love are always better when they are shared with others. Advent/Christmas is about sharing meaning even when it doesn’t come in a square box with a bow. Rev.  Slaughter has repeatedly reminded his congregation—and any church that will listen—that; “Christmas is not your birthday.”
He writes; “Soft-secular Christians have turned the day in which we honor Jesus’ birth into a materialistic, gluttonous self-focused feast. Too many of our American churches have taught a “me-centered” gospel. The gospel has been reduced to how God can bless you, prosper you and increase your wealth.” He goes on to say; “Not only is that a false gospel, but this consumeristic ‘me’ focus only fuels the debt cycle that many of us are experiencing and fails to heed Jesus’ call of self-denial.”
I know for many that the gifts shared at Christmas can be an expression of love. This love is the meaning they derive from the Christmas season.  How can we take this meaning and amplify it? How can we focus on those in need around us, the widow and orphan, the homeless and unsheltered, the lonely and those that feel forgotten? There must be something more to this Christmas thing than buying stuff, wrapping it up, and hoping that the person gets a sense of happiness from that gift. The divine cannot be contained in “the perfect” gift wrapped in paper and put under the tree. There must be something more to Christmas for Christians than this somewhat false understating of who God is.
This Christmas season I challenge you to find every ounce of meaning in the coming of the Christ child.  Find every opportunity to grow closer to the community and to God. There are some really effective ways you can do this.
  • HOW YOU GIVE: Look for non-profits in our area that do phenomenal work with unsheltered and those in need—like Bidwell Riverside, Joppa Outreach, Catholic Charities, and even our Urbandale Food Pantry. Give them a call and ask what their clients might need this season … food, clothes, heat, or what might uplift their spirits.
  • WHERE YOU SHOP: Shop where it counts by researching local, equal exchange, or fair trade options for gifts this year. Ten Thousand Villages is a great option (http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/).
  • WHAT YOU DO: Volunteer at a nonprofit who helps those in need or one that focuses on those in our community who are lonely. Take some time as a family or group of friends to volunteer with those on the front lines at places like Central Iowa Shelter & Services (CISS) or delivering heaters for Joppa Outreach.
What would it look like if we reclaimed the essence and meaning of Christmas? How could that change the world around us?
~Pastor Jon