S o often I have attended Christmas services at various places of Christian worship and have come away bitterly disappointed. Why? Because for an hour or an hour and a half I have heard various sentimentalities about the 'Christ child in the manger' and about the 'wise men' and there was some very nice singing of carols – then, after the service, maybe a mince pie was enjoyed and there was some pleasant fellowship, but (AND IT IS A VERY BIG 'BUT') I never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ being clearly preached!

Frequently - being Christmas – there were many additional attenders present, some of whom might have been complete strangers to the Gospel, yet this evangelistic opportunity was rarely seized upon! Oh, I don't mean that we should be heavy-handed on these occasions – far from it, because that just puts people off; but I feel that during every Christmas service the Gospel should be clearly preached at some point during that precious service time. Sure, I realise that Jesus hardly preached the Gospel as a little child and that Christmas focuses on His nativity but we should always, during at least a good ten or fifteen minutes spread of that service, outline the actual message of the Gospel because this – more than anything -outlines who Jesus was and why He came to earth.

If your congregation normally has many guests for your Christmas service, or if your congregation is planning a special carol-singing service please may I suggest that you obtain a meeting with your pastor beforehand and respectfully seek his assurance that the rare opportunity to preach the Gospel to the uncommited is utilized?

And what is the Gospel? It is the message that the promised Messiah has come to earth and died for our sins and that reconciliation to God is now possible through the personal acceptance and appropriation of that message in faith. It involves repentance – this should be a real, life-shattering experience and cannot be achieved simply by the “Just repeat this prayer after me...” routine; there is no short-cut to genuine repentance. A person who – in the emotion of the moment - 'invites Jesus into their heart' has not even understood repentance which is a life-shattering and life-changing experience and often occurs over perhaps a month, as that person 'takes stock' of their life. We should encourage such people to 'count the cost' not just rush in on some emotional surge. Frankly, true repentance is granted by God alone. Notice the vital importance of repentance in the message of John the Baptist by checking out Mark 1:1-8.

So the grace of God (we cannot humanly manufacture it) brings a person to the state of true repentance and such a person is – effectively – invited back into the Garden of Eden which our predecessors were barred from. This is how one can be restored and reconciled to God: 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

If you know somebody currently going through this process please advise them in this way:

So, please ask for your pastor's assurance that the Christmas opportunity to preach the Gospel before the uninitiated is taken with both hands; he might say, 'If we talk about the birth of the Christ child on Christmas Day that is the Gospel! Actually, that is not the Gospel unless one goes a little further. Jesus did not come to give us all warm and mushy feelings, or so that we would all start to be 'nice to each other,' He came to call people into His Kingdom, this presenting a challenge to all!

Happy Christmas.

Robin A. Brace, 2005.