This time of year one of the more common expressions heard in the Christian subculture is “let’s keep Christ in Christmas.” Most of the time I hear this uttered in reference to the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in pop culture, the media, and more than a few retailers.
For those of us in the church who worship the babe born in Bethlehem, we would do well to look inwardly to see whether we in fact keep Christ in Christmas. After all, it is a little odd to expect unbelievers to get the wonder of Christmas. We know it is more than the pithy little messages in The Grinch or Elf (or even my favorite, Jingle All the Way-we in fact own a Turboman!). Or do we?
We, like the world, spend more than a truckload on gifts, food, decorations, etc this time of year. If an unbeliever opened up our bank account and compared what we spend on ourselves to what we spend for the gospel (which after all, is what Christmas is about), would they be tempted to ask us whether we keep Christ in Christmas?
For those in my heritage, the Southern Baptist Convention, few things get more attention (and rightly so) in a year than the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Would that not be a good barometer to see whether or not we got the point of Christ being in Christmas?
In 1989 Michelle and I were commissioned as Home Missionaries to serve the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana. For two years my entire salary was paid by Annie Armstrong Easter offerings (the other main SBC offering). I remember staying in the cheapest hotels I could and eating fast food, because I felt such a strong obligation to spend wisely every penny Southern Baptists gave to allow me to serve them. That sense of debt caused me to be more focused. I am a debtor to this day for the gratitude of many I will never meet.
Now we live in a time of greater gospel opportunity than ever in history. But our giving, particularly when it comes to reaching those around the world (after all, Jesus did not come to earth for people in the US only) hardly reflects our rhetoric, does it?
I want to share with you an email from missionaries in a far away land. It moves me as I reflect on Jesus leaving heaven to come to a people in darkness like you and me. The names and location have been removed:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:2, 6
On the night so long ago in Bethlehem, the Light of the World was born in the form of baby to bring God’s Light and Salvation to people of every language and ethnicity and nation.
The Light still shines today, but millions have yet to see even a glimmer of its radiance. With so many yet to hear and time growing short, you might think that more than ever men and women are giving and going. We wish we could bring you such good news this Christmas season.
However, because of the significant drop in giving to the IMB and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in the past two years, many men and women who are willing to go to the ends of the earth will likely be delayed…or unable to go with the mission board at all.
If things continue as they are, our entire affinity group will in the next TWO years probably receive only 10-12 new worker families or singles. To give you some perspective, our affinity group is tasked with reaching a population similar in number to that of the entire United States.
And the population here is less than .001% Christian.
Here is a more concrete example: In the country where we live, there are many large cities where there is no church, no missionary (from any organization), and no believer. Very few, if any, in these cities have heard the true story of the child born in Bethlehem, the Light of the World. Who will tell them if workers are unable to come?
This Christmas season, as you enjoy the Christmas lights and celebrations and contemplate the treasure you have found in Christ, please consider this-in order for the Light to shine in the darkest places of this world, there must not only be men and women willing to go, but there must also be thousands of men and women ready to send them.
This year our family feels an urgency to give more to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering than ever. We say this to tell you that we believe in it and we know first hand the significance of this offering. 100% of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goes directly to the IMB and its effort to bring the gospel to the nations.
This letter is not meant to be just another sentimental holiday plea. This is not about our family needing more money or even the IMB needing more money. This is about making it possible for more missionaries to take LIGHT and HOPE to those who walk in utter darkness and hopelessness. It is about taking the Good News we so joyfully celebrate this Christmas season and sharing it with those who have never heard. Please pray about how God would have you give this year.
We love all of you. We rely on your prayers. We thank God for your faithfulness. And we are truly grateful for your partnership in the Gospel which allows us to bring news of God’s great salvation to those who do not know of the child born in Bethlehem! (end of email)
For some years my family has given as much to Lottie Moon as we spend on each other. This year, from the summer until now, we are giving much more than that. I am naturally a stingy fellow, so do not take me to be a noble example. But how can we buy more stuff we do not really need with the weight of the lostness of the world tugging at our hearts?
If indeed that is what tugs at us most.
My fellow Southern Baptists, we are not the only ones reaching out to the world. But we have the most remarkable system to do so I have ever seen. Can we come together for the gospel and respond to the need? Will we by the way we spend our money demonstrate that Christmas is about CHRIST, and not the stuff we accumulate?