When the King of Glory incarnated on earth He chose Bethlehem. Angelic pomp mingled with but peasant circumstance to usher in Christmas. The same pomp and circumstance can characterize our celebration today. Free Methodists empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the good news still find modern shepherds to point toward Christ. North Central Conference congregations still identify with the poor and bring the power of presence and presents (gold, frankincense and myrrh?) into their lives. Christian families everywhere might rest in the simple grace of God instead of unaffordable glitz.
Modern shepherds are hard working men and women who barely make a living wage and would tend to believe “the walls of the church would cave in if ever I were to enter.” God cared enough for these people living on the edge that he reserved heavenly pomp for their eyes only that first Christmas. As our churches focus on “Bringing Jesus” to their communities, the Spirit of Christmas would be honored if our best were invested on communicating the hope, peace and joy of Jesus to those outside of the church.
Many NCC congregations do this well. Resolution Church in Naperville, IL (Pastors Mark Davenport, Erick and Bekki Ewaskowitz) has focused its energy on providing high-quality and attractive worship and preaching with modern shepherds in mind and see people coming to Christ for the first time each month. In Austin, Minnesota, intentional invitations to immigrants of many cultures create growth surges for the Bethlehem Free Methodist Church (Pastors David Martin and Mike Cogswell) and the Betel FMC (Pastor Federico Rivera) as people on the edge find a loving, spiritual home. Prisoners are finding freedom in Christ through many Pastors and congregation in our connection who lead and support jail ministries, such as the Heritage FMC in Burlington, IA (Pastors Wayne Ryan and Wendell McCombs), Richland Center FMC, WI (Pastors Jim Berlin and Pedro Gomez), True Worshipers in Madison, WI (Pastor Larry Jackson), St. Charles FMC in IL (Pastor Derin Fowler) and many more.
NCC churches that may desire bring their gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus this Christmas can do so in many ways. Jesus said when we do something for the “least of these” we do it to Him. Significant NCC ministries that exist to serve the poor, addicted, elderly and children in need are Olive Branch Mission (Chicago, IL) and Woodstock Christian Life Services (Woodstock, IL). Congregations may want to live in the spirit of Bethlehem through taking an offering for these NCC ministries. You can connect directly with them (or send a contribution to them through the NCC office):
Olive Branch Mission, 773-948-3004, http://www.obmission.org
Woodstock Christian Life Services, 815-334-6200, http://www.wclsil.org
Unaffordable glitz – the mainstay of American Christmas celebrations – can be avoided. Worshiping God and spending time with family and friends trumps wrapping paper around yet another unnecessary item. Still, even as we choose to give as a reflection of the gift God bestowed upon us, you may choose to do so with meaning. Several Free Methodist ministries allow you to purchase great gifts for others while benefiting the poor and needy around the world. You can do so by buying from Jinja Jewelry (connected with Emmanuel FMC in Janesville, WI), SEED and Heavenly Treasures. Check them out:
Jinja Jewelry – www.hopeinstituteuganda.org/jinja.php
SEED – www.fmworldmarket.org
Heavenly Treasures – www.heavenlytreasures.org
When the King of Glory incarnated on earth He chose Bethlehem. We live into this divine decision when we choose as churches and individual believers to love and care for those who live on the edge today. How are we going to live in the spirit of Bethlehem?