Increasing numbers of Americans are saying “Bah, humbug!” to the annual spend-fest that goes by the name of Christmas. A new survey finds that 45 percent would rather skip Christmas this year, saying they don’t have enough money to celebrate the holiday. According to Think Finance, a provider of payday loans, “Eight-five percent of those in this year’s survey plan to spend the same amount of money or less on gifts this year, with 54 percent planning to spend $500 or less.”
We Christians have fought long and hard to “keep Christ in Christmas,” but it has been a losing battle. When was the last time you heard businesses, schools, or advertisers actually use the word “Christmas” to describe their omnipresent “holiday” sales and programs? To which holiday might they be referring?
Yet even the manly blood coursing through the word “holiday” has been leeched out by the marketers. I’m far from the first to note that the word is a contraction of the word “holy day,” but now it means simply a day off from school or work. Our holidays are anything but holy, it seems. The secular society seems more interested in kneeling before the golden calf than before the livestock trough in Bethlehem.
So if we want to “keep Christ in Christmas,” it’s going to be up to us. That’s why I’m making the semi-heretical suggestion that we downsize the commercial aspects of the holy day even while we supersize the Christian ones. As Jesus said, we cannot serve God and mammon.
So how to begin? First, talk with loved ones about your desire to emphasize Christ rather than stuff this year. Come up with a mutually agreeable framework to scale back your gift-giving, decorating and “entertaining.” Yes, there will probably be some initial pain. But the long-term spiritual gain may well be worth it.
Second, take some of the money you will save and devote it to the kingdom of God. The Lord told us that where our treasure is, there are hearts will be also — so give it to him. No, Christmas isn’t all about money, either for Christians or for the nonreligious. You can celebrate this holy day either with a lot of money or with none at all. It’s not how much you spend, after all, but how much you love. But our spending is often a leading spiritual indicator, is it not?
And your giving can be doubly meaningful this year. The need for Christian generosity in this difficult economy remains great. ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) reports that giving to its 1,700 churches and other member nonprofits inched up by a paltry 1.8 percent in 2011 from the 2010 level, with many of the smaller ministries doing worse.Where you give is between you and God, but here are a few gentle suggestions to spark your prayerful thinking.
Your church. Many congregations and other ministries get a huge chunk of their annual donations at the end of the year. Why not make an extra gift to bless those who look after your soul every day? And if your church allows, you could designate your gift to ministries you especially care about — refugees, a soup kitchen, missionary support, a pastor’s getaway, etc.
Key issues. The Manhattan Declaration highlights three priority issues for Christians in the present time: preserving marriage, the sanctity of human life, and religious liberty. Among ministries that focus on these vital areas are Focus on the Family, the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, Care Net, and the Alliance Defense Fund. Or you could directly support the Manhattan Declaration.
The Jewish people. Since Christianity has deep roots in rich Jewish soil, and Jesus in fact was a Jew, a Christmas gift for Jewish evangelism would be particularly appropriate. One organization with a long track record of boldly reaching out to the Jewish people with the hope of their Messiah is, of course, Jews for Jesus.
Economic opportunity. Many people around the world lack the resources for economic stability and growth. Relief and development organizations such as World Vision and Heifer International allow you to give goats, cows, chickens, ducks and the like to poor families who can benefit from the eggs, milk and offspring. The Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College, meanwhile, provides research and resources for Christian microenterprise development. You could also purchase bikes, hot meals, mosquito nets — even a missionary hospital — through Samaritan’s Purse.
Bibles. Wycliffe Bible Translators has launched the “Last Languages Campaign” to translate Scripture into every language that still needs it. Other organizations, such as Biblica and Bibles for the World, focus on distributing it.
Persecution. Christians continue to suffer for their faith in Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and other areas. Organizations such as Open Doors, Iranian Christians International, and Voice of the Martyrs provide advocacy, prayer support and practical help.
Justice. Child labor and sex trafficking remain critical global problems. International Justice Mission raises awareness and even arranges rescues of the exploited.
Disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, and other disasters are perennial problems in our fallen world. World Relief partners with local churches to bring practical help and gospel hope to the hurting.
Great Commission. Scores of agencies, both denominational and nondenominational, plant churches, run hospitals, and perform other ministries to exalt Christ and build his kingdom among the nations. The Mission Handbook is a good guide to the many options.
Evangelism. While sharing the gospel is everyone’s responsibility and privilege, some ministries focus on this life-giving work, including the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Luis Palau Association and Greg Laurie’s Harvest Ministries.
Ideas. Christian news, information, and analysis are vital tools for believers in our ever-changing world. Yet recent changes in publishing and in the economy have made journalism increasingly challenging. The writers, editors, journalists, and thought leaders at Christianity Today, Books & Culture, BreakPoint, and World are doing great work. They need and deserve your support.
Higher education. Given the exploding costs of college, why not give a financial gift to a deserving student, or make a contribution to the school scholarship fund of your choice? College advancement offices will be happy to assist you.
These are all suggestions and do not exhaust the possibilities. ECFA’s website provides a boatload of resources to help you choose wisely from among hundreds more reputable ministries. You might focus on one or two agencies to maximize your dollar’s impact in one area or share with a wider range of ministries so that different kinds of kingdom work can be supported. It’s up to you and the Lord.
However you choose to celebrate Christmas this year, put Christ at the center. The magi’s gifts honored the King. Yours can, too.
Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Today editor at large, is author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com/blog.
Publication date: December 3, 2012