Keep Christ in Christmas ... and every day of the week, too

MANATEE -- The Rev. Robert Green has seen the bumper sticker around town.

So have the Revs. Phillip Hamm and Joe Connolly.

The Revs. Craig Mathews and Hope Italiano Lee have seen it, too.

It reads: “Keep Christ In Christmas.”

Neither they nor any of their peers in the clergy need to be reminded of this message, one that comes to the fore each and every year around this time.

“It has been interesting to see TV news reports with children being asked about Christmas and they have no idea what it means,” said Rev. Green, pastor at Oneco United Methodist Church, 2112 53rd Ave E. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Rev. Hamm feels it, too.

“Human nature is we always want more and that’s what Christmas has become,” said the pastor at First Baptist of Palmetto, 1020 Fourth St. W.

He referenced the Peanuts classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Charlie Brown is depressed by the over-commercialization of Christmas, but his spirit is renewed at a rehearsal for the school nativity play when Linus quotes the Gospel according to Luke about the birth of Christ.

It first aired in December 1965.

“I don’t know whether it’s any different now than it was then,” Hamm said.

Rev. Connolly, pastor at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, 833 Magellan Drive, Whitfield, understood his concern.

“It’s nice to see those bumper stickers and banners, because it nudges people to think about how they should be acting,” he said. “It’d be nice to remember that in the middle of January when decorations are down and you have to face people as they really are -- like Christ did.

“Keep Christ in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Otherwise it’s a nice slogan that makes you feel less guilty about buying a lot of things.”

Rev. Green agrees.

“In the secular world it revolves around gifts, but the true meaning of Christmas is receiving the greatest gift of all -- Christ Jesus, the savior,” the pastor said. “It’s important people really understand that.”

Which will the focal point of Rev. Hamm’s Christmas preaching.

“If we can have the heart of Christ, we’re going to be generous with what we have,” the pastor said. “You’re going to find contentment, the joy that really does come through generosity.”

Rev. Lee believes her congregation at Kirkwood Presbyterian, 6101 Cortez Road, has embraced that message.

“Over the last two years we’ve focused on what Christ came to do -- he came to change the world,” the pastor said.

“What can we do to change the world? We’ve changed our approach to Christmas by heeding what Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.’

“We have neighbors who have nothing, so we have stepped in when a need arises.”

Like getting a youngster with a dental emergency to the dentist and paying for it. Or paying for someone’s auto repair so they can keep their job.

“We’re trying to figure out how to change people’s lives,” Rev. Lee said.

Rev. Mathews echoed the importance of being more Christlike whether it’s in the community near Hope Lutheran, 4635 26th St. W., or on Anna Maria Island.

“Whenever we see a situation we should respond like Jesus,” the pastor said. “You think of things like homelessness and hunger, but it’s more than that. People who are lonely, hiding addictions, it runs a whole gamut of things.

“Whoever has a need, finding a person in a crisis, are you are the person there to help them? That’s how we show Godly love. He made himself real in our lives through his son, Jesus, and we need to make ourselves real, Godlike in the lives of other people.

“That’s saying, ‘Merry Christmas,’ all year long.”

Connolly seconded that message.

“Christ came to greet people as they were and invite them into a love relationship with God,” the pastor said.

“We should be doing that every day.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055.