Christmastime brings out the best and worst in the people who seek to celebrate it. Some look forward to the beauty and pageantry that have become symbolic expressions of the joy of Christmas. Decorated streets, elaborately lighted homes, and 24/7 Christmas music marathons create an atmosphere that sets Christmas apart as "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Others dread Christmas as a time that highlights their being left out, alone and in deepest despair without anyone to truly turn to for help. There are still others who embrace Christmas as a time to enter into a fantasy world, where they can escape reality and embrace a magical world where there is an abundance of all that one could desire and an opportunity to indulge oneself in excesses that would never be considered rational at any other time of the year. With these and countless other approaches to observing Christmas, what is an appropriate response to this Season which at its core is meant to be a celebration of God's Greatest Gift to humanity?
Those of us who follow Christ need to embrace the joy of Christmas and welcome others who feel that joy, but don't exactly understand why. At the first Christmas, when the angel appeared to the shepherds, though his presence initially terrified them, his words were comforting and encouraging to them.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord' Luke 2:8-11.
The angel came with good news meant to be a source of joy for all people! If one believes that God truly sent His Son to save humanity from the penalty of sin that first Christmas and that His intention was to leave an indelible mark on history that would forever change the way people think, live and act, it is no wonder that the time that has been set apart to celebrate Jesus' birth has impact that extends well beyond the Christian Community of faith. God's message of peace and goodwill so resonates with the deepest desires of the human heart that even those who are blind to the essential message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ are hungry for the fruit of the message and seek out ways to claim the fruit for themselves at every opportunity. Christmas opens the door of opportunity for everyone, both believing and unbelieving, to partake of the fruit of God's love with gusto and unrestrained enthusiasm. This general openness creates a wonderful avenue for Christian believers to explain the Reason for the Season and to close the gap for those who are seeking purposefully or fumbling in spiritual darkness.
This gap closing can be best accomplished when Christians carry their joy beyond an emotive response and allow the light of faith to shine through them in powerful acts of loving service. A dear friend of mine who pastors a church in the Cleveland area launched a ministry outreach designed a number of years ago by another ministry which is called the Advent Conspiracy. The basic elements of this outreach ministry are this: Worship fully. Spend less. Give More. Love all! The Advent Conspiracy website has this to say about giving more:
God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving.
The great thing about the elements that make up this conspiracy is that they are truths that should characterize Christian action all of the time. Christmas becomes not an excuse for selfish indulgence, but an opportunity to put the foundational elements of Christian action to work in a more direct and focused way. All of the great Christmas stories from "A Christmas Carol" to "The Grinch who Stole Christmas" actually reflect the truths of the Advent Conspiracy. A Changed Heart refocused on God's glory and His truth that leads to less spent on self, more given to others and an abundant flow of love dispensed generously to all. This Christmas, don't allow yourself to sink in selfish despair or to become indulgent in self-gratifying excess. Let yourself get caught up in the great conspiracy that doesn't tear down or destroy, but instead restores and renews others who see the good work you do and as a result, begin to glorify the Heavenly Father. Have a Very merry Christmas and enjoy being part of the Conspiracy! Until Next time...