By Norman Ridenhour
Baptist Layman & Retired Journalist
Who hijacked Christmas? I went to the store recently and was greeted by aisles of Christmas trees, toys, decorations, lighting and yard displays. In one small section there were a few mangers with baby Jesus along with Joseph and Mary and some sheep. Another with the wise men offering gifts to the messiah.
As I left the store, I wondered how the greatest birth ever was overlooked for the pleasures of excited children who received more gifts on one Christmas than I received in my entire life. What happened to the priorities of Christians?
One question I often get: “Is the church changing the world or is the world changing the church?” As I watched the progression of the Christmas holidays over the past 70 years, it has become clear that the world has changed the church and God’s gift to us is often taken for granted and that gift replaced with worldly toys.
When God observes our celebration of Christmas do you wonder what He thinks of the way we celebrate the birth of Jesus?
We live in the greatest country the world has ever seen, blessed by God with a standard of living that the whole world can only dream of having. Do we thank God for our blessings with a decorated tree with presents covering the base, and tables of food to satisfy every taste? Is a successful Christmas determined by the amount of dollars spent?
Every Christmas, thousands of families travel to grandma’s house (or wherever) but on Sunday will stay home if it’s drizzling a little rain. Here in Tennessee, football fans will travel 400 miles roundtrip to see a game in the rain, but would never go to church under such conditions. As a former pastor said “Ya got your priorities messed up, folks!”
Today we hear of other stories about Christmas — stories of loneliness and depression. The reasons are many but usually because we can’t give our family their desires, or there’s no one to celebrate with because loved ones have passed on, or family have declared someone an outcast.
Over my many years I’ve seen all the above. I can remember when kids got one gift on Christmas, and if you were lucky, two. I remember it wasn’t the gift so much as family gathering to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I remember going to church and seeing manger displays and everyone celebrated the birth of Jesus.
I have also seen Christmas lose its luster.
I remember when I lived at the Alabama Baptist Children’s home and each cottage (with about 30 kids) gathered to open our presents. Everyone got a gift. But there were lucky boys who had been adopted for Christmas by some church or Sunday School class. We had to watch them open 10-15 presents and our gifts became insignificant.
Years later, I was fortunate to serve for eight years on the board of trustees and many of the board members didn’t like many of my proposals. The first was to have all gifts sent to the Children’s Home marked boy or girl, toy or clothes and age grouping so the staff could distribute those gifts equally.
So many times people serve on boards and simply rubber stamp motions by the institutional leaders. I would always ask, “If your child was living here, would you vote differently?” You see, the 232-plus children had but one family. We had each other. We enjoyed all holidays and you can be sure we knew what Christmas was about and understand the Scriptures which state: “If you believe, you are welcome in my house and are adopted into my family.”
Kids there knew that churches across the state made it possible to enjoy a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food on our table. We were taught that because of God’s gift to man, and the agape love shown by His church, we had the opportunity to succeed in life.
The greatest gift I received came during a Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Troy, Ala.
The teacher abruptly stopped the lesson and said; “Boys listen to me. I know some of you have no idea what life holds for you, and at times you feel unwanted and unloved. But remember that God loves you and Jesus gave His all for you and the Holy Spirit will be there for you!”
Later that day I came to the conclusion, “I don’t need anyone else. If God loves me and Jesus proved His love on the cross, and the Holy Spirit will walk with me, then who can challenge me?”
To this day, I have the only gift I need and Jesus paid for that gift. Happy Birthday Jesus!