Signs of the Season: Movement Marks Christmas through Celebration and Service

 In All Church of God, CHOG

By Carl Stagner

The traditional Christmas pageant, dinner, and candlelighting services have certainly stood the test of time. Advent readings and annual “Hanging of the Greens” events absolutely have their place. But celebration and service to God and community took countless creative forms between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, revealing yet again the Church of God movement’s knack for pulling out all the stops in recognition of the blessed incarnation. Indeed, signs of the season were all around us, inspiring hope for the hopeless, lifting the lowly, and pointing people everywhere to Jesus.

A brief overview of several local Church of God congregations suggests that a merry Christmas for the Movement was marked by innovative worship, fellowship, and service. Consider Main Street Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, and their “Black Friday Breakfast.” Harnessing the opportunity presented by the hustle and bustle of the season’s unofficial start, they opened up their fellowship hall to weary shoppers for a free, full breakfast—and probably a much-needed, restful break—from the all craziness.

Consider First Church of God in Vandalia, Illinois, one of numerous congregations of the Movement and other fellowships that served this year as a conduit of Operation Christmas Child. Year after year, churches like Vandalia First Church demonstrate cooperation (and sometimes a hint of friendly competition) to pack shoeboxes to ship all over the world. The blessings children receive consistently show on their faces upon opening those packages of love. The Vandalia congregation was also a visible and inspirational part of lighting the community Christmas tree downtown.

At Alma Church of God in Michigan, more than a month of events and special programming dotted the calendar for the Christmas season. An Advent teaching series called “Because of Bethlehem” shaped the arc of activities, which also included choral presentations, lots of cookies, and children’s community attractions.

Students of Vandalia First Church of God after packing the shoeboxes!

East Side Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, is known for powerful Christmas productions each December. This year’s event, “A Christmas Experience,” advertised, “Want to experience Christmas? Bring your family and friends to A Christmas Experience at East Side. The evenings will be full of hands-on, interactive fun for families. The ancient town of Bethlehem will be set up in the worship center with fifteen-minute performances of storytelling presenting the Christmas story. Visit the North Pole with stations for crafts, cookie decorating, writing a letter to Santa, and more.” Of course, when families from the community attend an event like this, they’re always treated to the love of God and presented with the reason for the season.

On a more somber but essential tone, this year’s Blue Christmas ministry at Salem Church of God in Clayton, Ohio (outside of Dayton) was another event that truly made a difference. Several congregations of the Movement adopt the Blue Christmas approach, which provides time and space to grieve, as well as hope, to those who have “lost loved ones, navigated health concerns, experienced a loss of income, or find [themselves] weighed down by bad news, and [they] need assurance that God is with [them] and for [them].” The ministry impact is always great, as it was this year for the Ohio congregation and community.

Phoenix, Arizona’s Mountain Park Church invited the ladies to a “Christmas Tea,” while Anderson University invited the city to their campus for the second annual “Illuminate” Christmas lights-and-more experience. At Scotland Avenue Church of God in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the children decided on their own to conduct a four-day popcorn fundraiser—the proceeds went to bless a local family for Christmas! And, in Andover, Kansas, Hope Community Church invested heavily in a “Community Christmas Tree Lighting” of their own, which included a live nativity complete with camels, hayrides, crafts for children, and free food. Lots of free food! But most importantly, a message about Jesus Christ was interspersed between classic Christmas carols. Appealing to the congregation to be oriented outside the four walls this Christmas, the church urged, “Together we can make Hope a welcoming place where Jesus is known, loved, and his words are put into action!”

The Church of God movement knows our heavenly Father is a faithful Provider. Often he goes beyond supplying our needs and gives us abundance. Each of these congregations (including many, many more not mentioned in this article) serves like Jesus served, giving to others because of what Jesus has given to them. Their gifts to the community this year reflect the greatest Gift of all.

Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.

Feature (top) photo: Live nativity at Hope Community Church in Andover, Kansas.

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