Word&Way News Writer
JEFFERSON CITY — It’s time to “Unplug the Christmas machine,” states a book with the same title by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. And members of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City are challenged to do just that.
Simple Christmas, the church’s Advent theme, is a plan to “take back Christmas,” so it isn’t driven by consumerism, commercials or the material, senior pastor Doyle Sager said.
“It’s to help place the focus on the spiritual meaning, to be set free. The things that mean the most don’t cost anything.”
The idea for the churchwide emphasis began last October at a Central Baptist Theological Seminary Advent planning workshop. Holly McKissick, senior pastor at St. Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, Kan., led a breakout session on simplifying Christmas.
Sager and his wife, Janet, had been leading their own extended families to simplify gift-giving, from adopting families in need to gifts to charitable organizations in honor of the recipient.
As he toyed with the ideas McKissick presented, Sager knew he wanted to bring it to the church. “I told the staff, ‘I already have the Advent ’08 theme,’” he said.
Why is a simple Christmas necessary? “It’s about focusing on the real meaning of Christmas,” said Laurel Dunwoody, church administrator.
“So many are at the stage where they don’t really need anything,” Sager said.
“Instead of feeling guilty for buying things no one needs,” share a more relational holiday and give funds to people and organizations that can use them.
Plans started long before the economic downturn, he added.
“It made us look genius, but it is really the Lord at work,” he said.
The church featured a “Christmas Made Simple as ABC” event to give members an opportunity to make Christmas gifts and collect a recipe book of gift, gift-wrapping and food ideas. According to Dunwoody, more than 90 people attended, including 33 children.
Some of the thoughts garnered from Unplug the Christmas Machine emphasize thinking through favorite Christmas memories from years past, and finding ways to create similar memories for children.
Very rarely are those memories material gifts, Sager said. Instead, it’s “the year we got snowed in” or “the time a homeless man intruded at church and didn’t have anywhere to go, so we invited him home.”
Sager recognizes simplifying the season and focusing on the meaning of Advent is counter-cultural.
“It is a challenge, and it is countering the culture if we do it right — rather than raging (over a so-called war on Christmas), do positive things,” he said. “People love rituals and simplicity. The church has an open door if it stops complaining and whining. We have a responsibility of stewardship to take back holy days, to redeem time.”
Sager will address simplicity from the pulpit during Advent, focusing on “simple justice,” “simple holiness” and “simple humility.”
The church also has created a Web site — simplechristmas.org — with resources on simplifying the season, including alternative Christmas gifts, a budget sheet and links to other helpful sites.
“The Web site is simple — and purposefully so,” Dunwoody said.
The church will continue to maintain the Web site with new resources, links and personal stories beyond Christmas.
And the church will continue the emphasis next year, Sager added.