If December 25th is your birthday, please look past the title of this article taken from Pastor Mike Slaughter’s book by the same name, and happy birthday! But for the rest of us, we need helpful reminders and intentional encouragement to avoid robbing Jesus of his rightful place at the center of the holy day and holy season.
Mike Slaughter, who taught and preached at the 2011 Iowa Annual Conference, has extended an invitation for all believers to stop living beneath our kingdom potential and experience the joy of living and giving like Jesus in the name of the One who comes to us as Immanuel.
“Christmas has been hijacked and exploited. We have professed allegiance to Jesus, but celebrate his birth with an orgy of materialism” (introduction of Christmas is Not Your Birthday).
Thanksgiving night 2011 was filled with overwhelming evidence of how much we have been seduced by marketing as we were encouraged to be first in line for great shopping deals, to forgo sleep and rush to the stores opening at midnight or 4:00 a.m. Record crowds charged the malls and big box stores with reports of pepper spraying, mace, fights, and friendly/unfriendly competition to save hundreds of dollars on a big screen TV or fifty dollars on a pair of boots.
Shopping is not evil. Giving gifts to the people we love is not a bad thing. However, Christmas is not your birthday. Over the years I have been guilty of bowing at the altar of materialism, missing, in part, the marvelous missional opportunity of producing more peace and joy in the name of the Prince of Peace.
I have repeated sermonic chastisement I heard as I was growing up, proclaimed by Methodist and Baptist pastors: “We spend money we don’t have, buying things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”
I am thankful for the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to many cities and states. The eclectic gathering of protestors is a reminder for me of the imperfect church used by God, not without criticism, to point to a better way of living in community. It is not okay that people are homeless and that the chasm between rich and poor grows wider while we prepare to participate in an election year that will witness record amounts of money spent.
Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “The great crisis among us is the crisis of the ‘common good.’ We need to remember we are one human family with a common destiny, ‘haves and have-nots, rich and poor.’”
We face a crisis about the common good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common destiny. Private interest, profits, and excess personal possessions must never cloud the vision of community where justice is more than words in a sermon and love is more than lyrics in a song.
Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio, the church led by Pastor Slaughter, has raised over five million dollars to save lives in Darfur Sudan. This has been done in part by challenging members to give as much, if not more, for their missional focus than each family will spend on themselves for Christmas.
You get the picture, don’t you? If we match our dollars spent on gifts for family and friends with an equal dollar amount and enthusiasm for the common good, the poor, and the marginalized, the holy season can be returned to its focus on the Prince of Peace.
It is not my intention to run Santa out of town, but to welcome Jesus as Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, the little child of Bethlehem, to occupy our hearts and homes, and direct us back to the common good.
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray, cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 9:6-7
From our home to yours, we wish you peace, joy, and encouragement.
Julius C. & Racelder G. Trimble
To view Bishop Trimble's 2011 Christmas Message, please click the following link: