‘What are the candles for?’ That’s what the Dollar Tree cashier asked me as I laid a handful of taper candles on his conveyor belt this afternoon. I wish I’d been better prepared to answer; to speak of the hope we have in Christ, and how the advent wreath is simply a quaint way of counting down the days and remembering the Babe of Bethlehem, who broke into our world, bringing light to those who walked in darkness. I did get out a few words about counting down, and Jesus’ birth … and I hope the Lord will stir them into a mixture by which that young man will eventually come to know and love the Son of God.
But, reflecting on that little encounter, it occurs to me that ‘tis the season when I will likely have several other unique opportunities for spreading that “good news of great joy” that was announced in Bethlehem, and accomplished in Galilee, Golgotha, and beyond. And it is likely that you will have a unique handful of such opportunities, too. Yes, it’s true that much of the world’s recognition of the virgin, and the manger, and the inn, and the baby is largely just lip service and custom. And there is surely much to lament when people give mere lip service to Christ. And yet the traditions that flourish around us every December do provide us with opportunity to give more than just passing acknowledgement to the events of Bethlehem; to speak more than mere clichés about ‘the reason for the season;’ to actually give meaningful voice to the good news that is in Christ Jesus. Indeed, allow me to mention just a few possibilities you may employ for spreading the “good news of great joy” this Christmas season:
Christmas Letters (or Cards). Many of us feel obliged to send Christmas cards to a whole slew of people each December. Not a bad thing! Well-conceived Christmas letters can be even more of a blessing, because they allow for more considerable outlay of information. And this year, along with the news of your children and vacations, perhaps some strands of the gospel could be woven in as well – some words of gratitude for who Christ is, and what He has done, from the cradle to the cross. Or, if a letter seems daunting, perhaps a few words in season written above your signature inside your Christmas cards. Here is an opportunity for you to write a little gospel tract, and to have it read by a few dozen people! And what good might God do with it?
Family Worship. The Christmas season finds many of us with added names on our December guest-lists – family, friends, and so on. Why not invite them, before the curtains come down on the evening, to join you for your family devotions? Many of you will be reading passages related to advent, which may capture their attention all the more. But even if you’re reading through Genesis or Romans, family worship can be a marvelous opportunity for your friends and neighbors to see “the hope that is in you.” This principle holds true year-round, but Christmas provides added hosting opportunities for many of us – and Christmas Eve or morning all the more so. On those days, amid all the other festivities, gather your family together to read the nativity accounts. Sing some of the most theologically sound of the carols. Pray thanks to God for sending His Son. And spread the “good news of great joy” right in the middle of your living room!
Christmas Eve Services. This one is simple. Your family knows that you are Christian. So tell them (in the most humble way possible) that you’d really love to attend a Christmas Eve (or morning) service of worship; that you really want to remember and praise Christ on this occasion. That request in itself will be a testimony of what Christ means to you! And all the more so if you can convince some of the family to come along. Our service is at 6:30pm on the 24th. And surely there is a gospel church somewhere near you who will be proclaiming and praising His name on the 24th or 25th. Maybe you can’t get your family to church any other time of year. But this, peradventure, may be the time they will come! And even if they enter the building looking only to add a few coals to the warmth of their holiday traditions, God’s word is “living and active” … and can capture hearts even when they least expect it!
Missions Giving. You and I aren’t the only ones trying to proclaim Christ this December (and January, and February, and so on). All over the world are missionaries working hard to make Christ known where there are no Christmas carols humming through the car radios, and no Christmas Eve services at which to light advent candles. And the people there need the “good news of great joy” just as much as do our own unbelieving neighbors and family. So this Christmas, why not make your top gift-giving priority the cause of world missions? Our church collects a special offering for world missions during the month of December. Perhaps yours does as well. Give to it … generously. Or, if this is not missions month in your congregation, make it so in your family. Give the gift of the gospel to the nations by giving to missions.
And finally, look for those random encounters, like mine at the Dollar Tree – encounters, more correctly, which seem random, but which have been orchestrated by God from eternity past so that some complete stranger might have another little strand of gospel woven into the fabric of his consciousness. “Always [be] ready” says Peter, “to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Let the hope that is in you burst forth this Christmas season! Deck the halls! Buy the candles! Sing the carols! And be readier than I was on a Tuesday afternoon to speak a brief, thoughtful, kind, hopeful, joyful, non-cliché word about Jesus!