"Remember the reason for the season - Jesus."
Many pastors would like our mental message boards to put this message at the top of the list and keep it there for this post-Christmas Day time of the year. But some admit it's a battle.
A panel of a half dozen or so local pastors said it's hard to tell if their efforts to have parishioners at least balance Santa Claus and Christ - obviously, they would prefer Christ to be first and foremost in their members' Christmas thoughts - have been successful.
One measure of the success of such efforts might be attendance at Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. All of them said attendance at those services at their churches continues to be high.
Another measure might be the amount of giving done for special Christmas programs, such as gifts for needy children. All of them said such giving has been strong.
But they all agreed that the numbers of people in the pews or money in the donation boxes are not reliable measurements of whether their parishioners are keeping Christ in Christmas. They said only the parishioners can tell that.
However, those pastors whose denominations do observe the Christmas season as beginning on Christmas Day said they believe the relative quiet of the period of a few weeks following Dec. 25 gives both them and their parishioners a good time to communicate, reflect and pray about the true meaning of Christmas.
They also said they use the birth of Christ as the backdrop and context for the broader discussion of where Christ fits in the lives of clergy and parishioners alike. It's a more general discussion that also can be conducted during the other great day of Christian celebration, Easter. But they said it's a conversation that can and should be held any time of the year; it's just that Christmas and Easter provide good introductions to the discussions.
Suggestions for keeping Christ in Christmas
In that vein, Mary Fairchild, a noted Christian author who has a free newsletter titled, "Your Guide to Christianity," has said that the discussion about Christ's role and meaning and presence in people's lives begins with each individual Christian. By the same token, she has suggested ways that each Christian can keep Christ in Christmas before, during and after Christmas Day:
* Give God one very special gift just from you to him.
Let this gift be something personal that no one else needs to know about, and let it be a sacrifice. David said in 2 Samuel 24 that he would not offer a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing.
Maybe your gift to God will be to forgive someone you've needed to forgive for a long time. You may discover that you've given a gift back to yourself.
Perhaps your gift will be to commit to spending time with God daily. Or maybe there is something God has asked you to give up, like last New Year's resolution. Make this your most important gift of the season.
* Set aside a special time to read the Christmas story in Luke 1:5-56 through 2:1-20: Consider reading this account with your family and discussing it together.
* Set up a Nativity scene in your home.
* Plan a project of good will. You can "adopt" a single mom, an orphaned child or an elderly neighbor. Buy them practical gifts as well as some fun presents that will make their lives both a little easier and happier.
* Take a group to a nursing home or a children's hospital. Even though Christmas Day has passed, singing carols still would be welcome. The singing not only will entertain residents but also cause them to use their memories and think of Christmases past and people who were around then.