Pastors put spotlight on ‘true meaning’ of Christmas
By Dawn De Busk
As the countdown to Christmas Day clicks away, it is difficult for most people to not get caught up in the long checklist that includes putting up decorations, finding the perfect tree, buying gifts, mailing off some of those gifts, baking traditional sweets and making appearances at various holiday parties.
Amid the hectic atmosphere that proceeds Christmas, there are ways that people can tune into the true essence of the season — celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
A couple pastors from different churches in the region weighed in on the true meaning of Christmas.
“The origins of Christmas, of course, lie in the early Christian church celebrating the birth of Jesus,” said Rev. Nancy Foran with the Raymond Village Church United Church of Christ.
“However, Christmas does not lie in simply remembering a long ago historical event but rather in the truth behind that event,” she said. “For Christians, that means celebrating the birth of God’s dream for the world, which we believe is embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.”
“Christmas is about all the things that Jesus stood for — compassion, economic and social justice, caring for the poor and marginalized — and believing in the personal transformation that is possible for all of us because of him,” Foran said.
Rev. Garret Meuser, with Casco Alliance Church, said the answer is in the message from the angel that appeared to the shepherds.
“If you look at the Christmas story, it is interesting as the angel appears to different people to tell them what is going on,” Meuser said.
“An angel appears to Jesus’ mother Mary. He tells her she is going to have a child, not by man but the Holy Spirit is going to place himself inside her. Then, the angel speaks to Joseph to explain what is happening. He tells him, ‘Don’t worry, this is from God. This son who is going to be born will save his people from their sins,” he said.
“Then, the angel appears to the shepherds and there are a couple different things the angel says to them that are wrapped up in Christmas. ‘Glory to God. Peace on earth. Goodwill to men,’ ” he said.
“That tells us the purpose of Jesus being born — that God wants to have a relationship with mankind,” Meuser said.
“The Christmas message is that God is coming into the world as a human to save us from our sins so we could have a relationship with him. There is a sequence there,” he said.
Meuser said that because God is omnipresent, he cannot be omitted from the materialism and commercialism associated with the holiday tradition of spending money on Christmas gifts.
“If you have a relationship with God, it goes beyond one day a year. It goes to every moment,” he said. “We receive that by simply believing, by believing that happened: God fulfilled his promise. He was born at this point in history.”
“He is fully and freely available if we believe — it is not something we can purchase,” he said.
Foran had some ideas to help people move away from too much focus on gifts and toward the message of Christmas.
“I think that churches do a pretty good job at this time of year of reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas,” she said.
“For those who are not church-goers, I think that family and personal activities can be helpful. For example, not so much asking our children what they want to GET for Christmas, but what they are GIVING to others,” Foran said.
“Also taking quiet intentional time in the midst of all the hustle and bustle can bring a different perspective on the season,” she said.
Both reverends were asked what activities people could engage in to experience the meaning of Christmas.
“We do a wonderful Christmas Eve service at RVCC that is a dramatic retelling of the birth of Jesus with a number of children from kindergarten to college taking part,” Foran said.
“I think that helps many families find a meaning for Christmas that goes deeper than the gifts that will be under the tree on Christmas Day,” she said.
“One year, a young child in the congregation wanted to look in the manger at the end of the pageant. She thought there was a real baby lying in there,” she said.
“Telling that ancient story year after year is something people never seem to tire of,” Foran said. “And, it seems to be an important part of Christmas for the 100 to 150 people who generally attend.”
Meuser suggested rereading the Bible story of Christ’s birth, attending Christmas Eve services at an area church, and singing traditional carols as ways to experience the spirit of Christmas.
“It is very beneficial to be reminded to read over the Christmas story in the Book of Matthew, chapter one and two, and the Book of Luke, chapter one and two,” he said.
“Going through that story — we need reminders of what this is all about,” he said.
“A lot of Christmas carols are very much centered on who God is, who Jesus Christ is. When we sing those carols and we recognize what they were written for, that brings us into a place of worshipping God. When, we express ourselves in words or songs that is glorifying to him,” Meuser said.
“Attending a Christmas Eve service is a way of really focusing on the Christmas story,” he said.
“As humans we are intensely religious. We have a desire to know God. Look around the world at all the religions. Very few people are truly atheists. We all have a desire to be spiritual, to experience that,” he said.
“The Christmas message is that God is available to us. He is attainable. When he was physically available on Earth as Jesus Christ, you could see him, hear him, talk to him, and touch him. He is still with us,” he said.
“Emmanuel means, ‘God with us,’” he said.