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Baptists ‘take back Christmas,’ focus on real meaningcomment (0)

December 23, 2008

It’s time to “Unplug the Christmas machine,” states a book with the same title by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. And members of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, Mo., are challenged to do just that.

“Simple Christmas,” the church’s Advent theme this year, is a plan to “take back Christmas,” so it isn’t driven by consumerism, commercials and things material, Pastor Doyle Sager said.

“It’s to help place the focus on the spiritual meaning, to be set free. The things that mean the most don’t cost anything.” The idea for the churchwide emphasis began at an Advent planning workshop in 2007.

Sager and his wife, Janet, had been leading their own extended families to simplify gift-giving, from adopting families in need to gifts to charitable organizations in honor of the recipient.

As he toyed with the ideas presented at the workshop, Sager knew he wanted to bring it to the church. “I told the staff, ‘I already have the Advent ’08 theme,’” he said.

Why is a simple Christmas necessary?

“It’s about focusing on the real meaning of Christmas,” said Laurel Dunwoody, church administrator.

“So many are at the stage where they don’t really need anything,” Sager said. “Instead of feeling guilty for buying things no one needs,” share a more relational holiday and give funds to people and organizations that can use them.

Plans started long before the economic downturn became obvious, he added.

“It made us look genius, but it is really the Lord at work,” he said.

The church featured a “Christmas Made Simple as ABC” event to give members an opportunity to make Christmas gifts and collect a recipe book of gift, gift-wrapping and food ideas. According to Dunwoody, more than 90 people attended, including 33 children.

Some of the thoughts garnered from “Unplug the Christmas Machine” emphasize thinking through favorite Christmas memories from years past and finding ways to create similar memories for children. Very rarely are those memories material gifts, Sager said. Instead, it’s “the year we got snowed in” or “the time a homeless man intruded at church and didn’t have anywhere to go, so we invited him home.”

Sager recognizes simplifying the season and focusing on the meaning of Advent is counter-cultural.

“It is a challenge, and it is countering the culture if we do it right — rather than raging (over a so-called ‘war on Christmas’), do positive things,” he said. “People love rituals and simplicity. The church has an open door if it stops complaining and whining. We have a responsibility of stewardship to take back holy days, to redeem time.”

Sager will address simplicity from the pulpit during Advent, focusing on “simple justice,” “simple holiness” and “simple humility.”

Suggestions to reduce and reallocate Christmas spending habits:
• Draw names instead of giving to everyone.
• Let others help; tell them your intention to give less and ask them not to buy an expensive gift.
• Give family gifts instead of individual gifts.
• Give gifts only to children.
• Don’t give children money to give you a gift.
• Design and make your own gifts.
• Set a spending limit with spouse and family.
• Don’t buy a gift that simply will be returned.
• Bake something.
• Go caroling.
• Create a homemade gift certificate for a favor or service.
• Give to missions and benevolent projects in someone’s honor.
• Give and wrap gifts in a way that cares for the environment.
• Give the gift of your time, talents and involvement — more presence, fewer presents.
• Teach someone a skill you possess.
• Make cards or postcards on your computer.
• Send electronic cards; they’re often free.
• Write a story or poem, make a song or create art as a gift.
• Write a letter of love and/or appreciation.
• Adopt a family in the community. Names are available through churches and community agencies.
• Support church missions in the United States and around the world. (ABP)

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