By Bill Easum

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Tis the season to be jolly.  Or is it?

That is the 64,000 dollar question everyone paying attention is asking these days.  I hope you are paying attention and realize that the U.S. economy is in a serious free fall over the past two months and that Christmas is going to be affected by all of the bad news opening up a major preaching opportunity for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. So here is some fodder for preaching this Christmas season.

As stock portfolios plummet and pension plans show a minus return, people are wondering if there is light at the end of the tunnel or is it another train coming our way?

As I write this the market has just scored a legitimate correction – yes folks it’s down more than 10% from its historic high earlier this year. And people are wondering if the decline is over or we have seen just the tip of the iceberg.

On top of that the after thanksgiving shopping spree was down more from last year as more people shopped than last year but spent less.

Been to the gas pump recently? Well, get over it because you will see another dollar increase in fuel costs over the next year (green will look a lot better next year).

And what about the almighty U.S. dollar? People are flocking from Europe to buy our greatly discounted merchandize. Even the Canadian dollar (sorry Tom) is worth more than the U. S.,- something almost unheard of in my lifetime.  And just today it was announced that Citi Bank just sold another sizable portion of its stock to the Saudis.

Oh, did I mention the record number of foreclosures on homesteads in the U.S.

I think shell-shocked might be the metaphor of the month. November has been a very bad month – except for one thing that the Press doesn’t want us to know it – We have turned the tide in Iraq and the casualties have dropped dramatically.

And less you think all of this is only affecting middle-America and the poor, I was talking with a man who I know makes close of $250,000 a year. In my book that’s a lot of money. I got the message when he said to me, “Bill for the first time since 1989 I’ve had to cancel some of my fun time (I knew what he meant – things like fishing and hunting).” You see, only the very wealthy, oh and of course congressman or senators, have been affected by the downturn of this economy.

Now for the Good News.

Put all of this bad news in your Christmas stocking and come up with a series of messages for December that will speak to the heart of shell-shocked people (notice I didn’t say Advent because no unchurched person has a clue what that means so we ought to quit using it).

What might you say to people who have watched their earning power diminish, their savings and pension decline, their home in jeopardy, their property value decline, and the world at large hate their guts?

We have to deal with their preoccupation with things. According to the 2008 Consumer Report Survey just out consumerism has reached an all time high in spite of the economy. Status is now one of the main “greed ingredients” of our society. From expensive bottle water to designer laptops, to Iphones, people are consuming like crazy.  As the economy worsens and people go Christmas shopping and experience the sticker shock due to the falling dollar there will be more and more people with either dismay or depression. Some of them will be in your church.

We could start by not being so Pollyanna about Christmas that we tell them all is well while their world is in shambles. You can begin by addressing the anxieties that are flirting around every corner.

I think if I were preaching this month I would begin with the text “perfect love casts out all fear.” My point would be those who deeply love Jesus don’t need to fear losing things because their hope is in Jesus not things. That love can never be taken away. I would help them ground their hope, not in their things, but in Jesus.

I know, this is trite on the surface, but is it really if you’re worried about whether or not the other shoe is going to drop?

People rely too much on things. Doesn’t matter what it is, accumulating things occupies so much of our time that when we are in danger of losing them we panic and think the sky is falling. But do we really need them? Of course not.  You’re task this Christmas needs to focus on helping them see the alternative – they need to focus on Christ and that means to focus on others because that is where we find Christ the most.

So here are some suggestions that might help relieve the pressure many of your people are feeling.

Why not skip buying everyone presents this year and give a small gift to Christ instead? I remember the first year my wife and I decided to no longer buy Christmas presents and do something for Christ instead. It was such a peaceful Christmas -no pushing and shoving to buyi something for people who didn’t need it. No more dreaded shopping mall trips to hell. Just a peaceful, Christ centered month. It was the best Christmas we ever had and we’ve been doing it ever since.

If you have kids why not find some worthy families and have mom and dad prepare baskets of food and the kids give them their favorite toys? I had an aunt and uncle who did this every year and both of their boys became missionaries.Why not get a bunch of your church friends together and get permission at the mall to wrap Christmas presents for people free (of course you need to get permission)? This not only gets people thinking about others it also gives your church a lot of visibility in the community.

What about your church advertising that it has people ready to help those who aren’t physically able put up their Christmas tree and ornaments or decorate their homes?

I bet if you spent time thinking about it you could come up with many more ideas. So why not give it a try?

You see- if you can get your people focused on helping other people, the joy of things often shifts to the joy of helping others.  And isn’t that the real message of Christmas – God reaching down and saying “I care more about you than anything else?”

Have a great Christmas season by remembering the reason for the season.