Marketing the Messiah

From the Gospel According to Bob 1:26-2:12 (from the NKJV & The Message):

And on the night unto which the child was to be born, Joseph and his wife Mary sought shelter, but coming late without a reservation, Mary was vexed with Joseph, saying, “I told you so.”  Joseph, aware that he was on thin ice, comforted Mary and assured her that he would find them a warm, safe, clean environment in which to deliver the one, true Son of God.  He set off on his mission, returning sometime later with the good news (gospel) that, “two out of three ain’t bad…”  Mary trusted Joseph, right up to the point where she realized that their was no room for them at the inn.  She surveyed the stable that Joseph found, counting unto ten.  Then Mary treasured all these things in her heart, being sure to remember them for a more opportune time.  Secretly she hoped her child would be untidy so that through his life she might say to him, “What’s the matter with you?  Were you born in a barn?”

When the time came for Mary to be delivered, she noted with agitation that Joseph seemed preoccupied.  “It’s time,” said Mary.  “Hmmm?” replied Joseph.  “I’m ready to have the baby, here.  What’s the matter with you?” Mary asked.  “Oh, nothing.  But I was just thinking — this has real possibilities.  Son of God, humble beginnings, born in a stable, laid in a manger — it has a real appeal.  In fact, I bet we could make tiny models of this and they would sell like crazy,” reflected Joseph.

The rest of the night was a blur.  The tiny child was born, angels appeared, shepherds stopped by for a visit, but Joseph busied himself with sketches and copious notes.  “All we need now are some magi and the scene will be complete!” crowed Joseph.  “As soon as you’re up and around, we need to take a little trip.  I know a guy in Egypt that can crank out these nativity sets as easy as you please.”  “Joseph,” Mary observed, “I am not sure we should be exploiting this for profit.  This is a most holy night, and I am not comfortable with the idea of commercializing it.”  Joseph, chastened and repentant, answered Mary, “You’re right, as always my love.  This is a holy event, one that should never be exploited for profit.  Let this be a lesson to us all — the birth of the Son of God should be honored and not cheapened by commercialization!” (NKJV)

When Mary was about to have Jesus, she and Joseph realized they were homeless.  He found a place and said, “I think I know how we can turn a profit on this.”  Mary replied, “I can’t talk about this right now.  I’m a little busy.  And besides, I think it’s a stupid idea.”  Joseph thought for a minute, then said, “No, you’re right.”  (The Message)

Oh, what have we wrought? Was it ever in the mind of God that we would commemorate the birth of the Messiah as we do today?  Inflatable, light-up cartoon nativity sets on our lawns?  Angels dancing to “Jingle Bells” barked by dogs?  The three Wise Men bearing gifts of pizza, nachos and a keg of bear?  Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus made of sausage, meatloaf, gingerbread, or jello?  Nativity scenes employing ducks, snowmen, Peanuts characters, Sesame Street characters, Lego, Star Wars, Pokemon… what splendid ways we have created to remember the birth of our Savior!  The problem is, there’s big bucks to be made exploiting religion, and the church generally has no problem with selling out as long as it can turn a profit.

Money is the new Messiah, and popularity is the measure of success.  Keep the customers satisfied.  Case in point: I know of dozens of churches that will not have worship services on Christmas morning, which falls on a Sunday this year (if you didn’t already know…).  Here are actual reasons given by the pastors of those churches:

  • too few people will come and it will hurt our worship attendance figures.
  • we won’t even take in enough to cover the cost of the heat and lights for the day.
  • we don’t want to compete with “family time.”
  • we’ll have our big attendance and offerings on Saturday night.
  • people will get their fill of worship on Christmas Eve — we don’t need to overdo it.
  • I’m not going to put a lot of effort into an extra sermon that almost no one will hear.
  • it makes people angry if we hold church at inconvenient times.
  • I view Christmas on a Sunday as a paid day off.  Everybody else gets it as a holiday – why shouldn’t I once a decade?

It makes me wonder what we think Christmas is?  Has the essence of Christmas become so usurped by secular culture and modern Western values that it has virtually nothing to do with God and the birth of the Christ, except when convenient and undemanding?  Is Jesus merely a product that the church can hawk and sell?  Is worship a program that we put on or a relationship in which we participate?  Is Christmas really all about us or is their something more important we’re missing?  Truly, is there any more appropriate place for Christians to be on a Sunday Christmas morning than church?  And should the leaders of our churches decide not to “hold” church simply because the least commitment and the least cognizant won’t bother to show up.  The sad reality for me is this:  if Christmas morning offerings were substantial in our congregations, there would be absolutely no question as to whether we would hold worship or not.  Where our treasure is, there are our hearts as well…

10 replies

  1. I’ll be the naysayer on this one (and brace myself for a wallop from Taylor B-E, too!) but I found your comments about Christmas Sunday worship moved you into the realm of the Christian establishment – a place I’m not sure you would relish.

    I’m a layperson and lived overseas in a Islamic country for many years. Sunday worship was not practical because it is the first day of the workweek in some countries and cultures – so Christians adapt by honoring the Sabbath in a way that is appropriate for their living context. After all, Sunday as “the” day of worship has as much validity as calling December 25 the Christ’s birthday.

    We worship in community regularly because it marks who and whose we are. Some designate worship on Sunday mornings because that is what we do. I can get past not worshiping on Sunday mornings, because that is not always the day of worship for all Christians. I would have been much happier if you called for Christians to be in worship on Christmas every year – not just on Christmas Sundays.

    • Making an exception based on convenience is wrong whenever it occurs. If Sunday were not the “normal” establsihed time for most churches, I have no problem with skipping church because we won’t get what we want. But I will not join you in justifying not worshiping because it isn’t convenient.

      • I believe that regular/weekly worship is necessary for life-giving discipleship. Worship on Sundays is normative (and convenient) for most. I’m not justifying canceling worship on Christmas Sunday. Far from it!

        I take exception to your question: “Truly, is there any more appropriate place for Christians to be on a Sunday Christmas morning than church?” I believe that Christians should be in church on every Christmas – Sundays, Wednesday, or any other day of the week. Your limitation to worship on Christmas strictly when it falls on Sundays seems parochial.

  2. Ahh, but worship is a drama, a production of sorts. We just seem to be confusing who is the cast and who is the audience. The show must go on.

  3. I remember when Christmas came on Sunday years ago – and a long looped conversation with one of the “saints”.

    “We can’t have worship on Sunday because it is Christmas”
    “We will worship on Christmas because it is Sunday”
    “But it is Christmas”
    “But it is Sunday!”

    Now it is to buck up the worship team – and ME for a great Christmas morning following 3 Christmas Eve services!!

  4. Oooooh – the rubber duckie nativity is SOOOOO cute! Where can I get one??

    Seriously – I know where to get one (don’t want it) and this is another well done commentary on the current situation – sad but so true.

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