In an age when Christmas has become overtly commercialized and much of the focus is on material gift-giving and the tradition of Santa Claus, local pastors say it’s important for people to remember why Christmas exists and the reason for the season.
“I really believe people put too much emphasis on materialistic gifts, instead of the gift from God,” said Pastor Bill Bowman of New Life Church & Ministries.
Bowman said he has been presenting a series of sermons this month on the subject of Christmas and reminding his congregation that the season offers a chance to reach out to those who feel their lives have little value.
Bowman said there is a reason that shepherds were the first to be notified of the birth of Jesus. “Sheep herders were considered religiously unclean,” said Bowman. “They were always on the move, they were dirty, they were always told they were not worthy. That’s who He came for.”
Bowman said he and other ministers often work with people who feel hopeless. “We deal with people who feel they have no value,” but Jesus “came for those hurting.”
Bowman said people should remember that Christmas is not just the story of a helpless child in a manger. “He grew up and died for our sins,” said Bowman. “He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords.”
Bowman said he is happy to hear more people saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” “Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and I think it’s actually politically incorrect not to say Merry Christmas,” he said.
The Rev. Tom Zile of the Hillsboro Church of the Nazarene, said Christmas “reminds me that God loves me and cared enough to willingly give His only son to die on a cross” for everyone’s sins.
In 2004, Zile’s son was killed in a car wreck.
“He was my only son,” said Zile, the father of two daughters, stressing that knowing the pain of losing a son through an unforeseen accident helps him understand what a difficult choice it would be to willingly sacrifice a son. Each Christmas, people should reflect on “what God willingly gave, and how much He wants a relationship with us,” said Zile.
Zile said that to him, “Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship. God loved us so much that He gave his son. He is the Christmas gift to all of us.”
Father Mike Paraniuk, pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Hillsboro and St. Benignus Catholic Church in Greenfield, said Christmas represents “the spiritual joy” of Christianity.
He said he recently noticed people fighting over merchandise at a local store, and was almost struck by a motorist racing through a parking lot. He said gift-giving and rushing from store to store “is not the reason” for Christmas.
The priest said that mankind often feels like a “speck of dust” in the vast universe. “At Christmas, I always remind everyone that with the birth of Christ, God screamed, ‘You’re not alone! I am with you. I love you. I know you’re small, but I created you and I love you.’ If you believe that God is present, He is present,” he said.
Tom Stoops, evangelist at the Marshall Church of Christ, said the birth of Jesus was “not just another birth. It was the coming of the Messiah. It was salvation.”
Stoops said the emphasis on other aspects of Christmas is not a recent phenomenon, but has been “a long time coming.” He said he doesn’t object to the celebration of Christmas with gift exchanges, family get-togethers and other traditional trappings – “It’s a wonderful time of the year,” he said – but it’s important to remember “the virgin-born, pre-named Son of God” who “came to redeem the world.”
“The birth of Christ changes our lives,” said Stoops.
Stoops noted that the Bible records that wise men sought the Christ child after they heard of His birth.
“Wise men still seek Him,” said Stoops.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.