By Arlo Newell
Christians too often view the Christmas celebration as excessive commercialism. Deluged by advertising and pressured by promotion, we find it extremely difficult to discover the true meaning of the season.
It was while crying over this commercialization of the Christmas season that I was convicted to look for the good and the positive rather than to criticize. I began by giving thanks for the beauty of the season. I began by giving thanks for the beauty of the season. Lights become more meaningful in the dark, depressive days of December. The contrast makes them more distinct and the cold, crisp winter air allows the sound of silver bells to be heard more clearly. And who can fail to experience the joy of children as they anticipate this most magical of all holidays; laughter fills the air as they live in a world of expectancy. Even in the ringing of the Salvation Army bell and the iron kettle help to accentuate the carols sung by choral groups along the street.
Then, as I ruminated, an unexpected blessing—a serendipity—invaded my process of evaluation. It was the renewed awareness of how very much the culture in which the church ministers can be a part of our witness. Rather than “curse the darkness,” wouldn’t it be better to capitalize on this commercial enterprise by building on some of the concepts of good business? Jesus said that we are to be in the world but not of the world. Therefore, when it is possible to make use of some particular wisdom, it is not out of the will of God so long as we keep his holiness before our humanness.
For example, many of our congregations have demonstrated the vision of clearly stating in writing the mission of their particular church. Along with this mission statement they have sought to set specific goals and to develop methods by which they can be achieved for the glory of God. This approach to ministry is most often used by successful commercial businesses. It is a kind of MBO, management by objective. You know where you are going and you intend to achieve that particular purpose.
Long before any of these commercial enterprises or the Harvard School of Business, the Bible set out some very clear principles that we have sometimes ignored because the business community adopted them. The writing of a mission statement is not new. God clearly declared his purpose in writing when he gave us the inspired Scriptures. Then periodically, lest we forget, he has given to us the purpose of his self-revelation in a variety of manners.
Christmas is a mission statement! In no uncertain terms God declares the reason for Christ’s coming into the world. While there are many related reasons, each worthy in its own right, there is just one primary, singular mission. It was declared to Joseph by the angel: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21 KJV, emphasis added). One such statement would be enough, but to give added importance the other gospel writers were inspired to emphasize the same mission: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 KJV, emphasis added).
Like all the worldly, human things that surround the ministry of Jesus, we dare not let the tinsel and trappings of Christmas crowd out its true mission. Jesus did not come only to feed the hungry, liberate the captive, give sight to the blind, or lift up the fallen—he came to save the world from sin. All of these other things are minor when compared to the mission of Christ in the world.
God had declared the purpose and the world knew that there was “none other name under heaven…whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 KJV, emphasis added). Only Christ could fulfill the mission of being “able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him” (Heb 7:25 KJV, emphasis added). At this Christmastime we need that clarity of mission. Our task as the body of Christ is not merely to celebrate a holiday. We are to celebrate the mission of the church—seeking to save the lost.
Advent sermons, hanging of the greens, choral cantatas, singing Christmas trees, living manager scenes, and all other activities must focus on the mission for which Christ came—to save the world from sin. Let our celebration of praise exalt “the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.” Let our preaching declare the gospel of Christ, “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Yes, the “motivation of the preacher is the salvation of the sinner.”
If I could give a gift to each congregation of the Church of God at this Christmas season, it would be a revival of our mission as a people. We are not called to promote a movement, or to declare a particular doctrine, but to proclaim Christ, the Savior of the world. This alone will bring lasting, healthy church growth through the saving of the lost. A new affirmation of this divine mission statement will turn us around, bring us together, and lead us victoriously into the future.
“Unto us is born a Savior.” Hallelujah!
Arlo Newell is editor-in-chief emeritus for Warner Press. His article originally was originally published in the December 20, 1987, issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission.
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