I remember it well. Exactly fifty years ago—Christmas of 1958—Bob Hope and his troupe included Okinawa along with other Asian ports in their goodwill tour. I was among thousands of others that evening—homesick for the good ol’ USA, missing my wife and counting the days. When the veteran entertainer sang his closing song, “Thanks for the Memories,” all of us sang along with him as we found ourselves flooded with memories.
I recall how grateful I was for that tour of duty: the lessons I had learned, the disciplines I had begun to employ (thanks to the Navigators), the books I had read, the missionaries I had met, the places I had visited, the journals I had kept, the letters I had written, the verses I had memorized, even the things I had witnessed inside a Marine Corps barracks (what goes on there, stays there!). And, most importantly, the call I had received from God to enter ministry.
Pastoring has to be the highest of all callings. In this position, we have the privilege of touching life at its most tender points . . . of walking with pain through its darkest valleys . . . of proclaiming truth in its purest form . . . of confronting sin in its ugliest scenes . . . of modeling integrity through its hardest extremes—while everyone is watching as well as when no one is looking. It is no wonder to me why it requires a God-given calling before one enters it or why such a struggle accompanies resignation from it.
As we review the memories of this year, let’s remind ourselves of a few essentials that are easy to forget. I’ll list them so that each one might stick in our minds throughout the Yuletide season. Three specifics come to mind.
For many, Christmas is the loneliest and can be the most depressing time of the year. A few examples? Families of those in prison . . . and the prisoners themselves. Single parents. The aged. The hospitalized. The dying and those ministering to them. Men and women in the military. Adult children of alcoholics with frightening memories of their childhood. Recently widowed men and women. Students who can’t go home for Christmas. Let’s pray for them. When it’s possible, let’s include them.
For most, Christmas can become little more than a selfish, greedy, and unsatisfying experience. When gift-buying gets out of control, the season turns into a financial, frustrating frenzy. Even for pastors? Absolutely! Instead of slowing our pace, enjoying the lights, drinking in the music and sitting quietly with those we love, the hectic hurry to find this, get that, mail these things, and order those things can steal all the fun and eclipse the meaning. Let’s put on the brakes this year and do something really unique, like relax. (I’ll do the same! I won’t post another blog until the New Year.)
For a few, Christmas is the only time they will ever hear or think seriously about the Lord Jesus Christ. So make sure the gospel is clear and simple when you preach—especially if you have a Christmas Eve service. The carols we sing include some of the finest theology in all of hymnody. The message of the incarnation is portrayed clearly in dramatic pageants, readings, special services in large corporations, and even on campuses. Furthermore, there are Christmas cards opened and read by eyes that would never otherwise entertain the gospel story.
Let’s ask our Lord to use us to touch many hearts this season.