Summary: Christmas Realities - Part 1. Will you stand out from the crowd this Christmas season?
ARE WE ANY DIFFERENT?
Christmas Realities – Part 1
1st Sunday of Advent
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 (TNIV)
Perhaps there is no better indication that the Christmas season is upon us than the appearance of the Salvation Army kettles and bell-ringers outside of our favorite shopping centers all across America. The Salvation Army, which is both a church and a charity, does a tremendous amount of work each year to help those who are poor and needy.
However, by all accounts the Salvation Army is going through a very difficult time right now – perhaps the worst in its long and storied history. Last year Target stores made the scrooge-like decision to ban the Salvation Army from all of their stores. This was a severe blow to the Army because in 2003 they had received 10% of all of their holiday donations from kettles in front of Target stores.
Now to make matters worse the Salvation Army is having a very difficult time finding enough volunteers to man the kettles at the stores that will still allow them to come. As a result of this the Army has begun to experiment with using life-sized cardboard cutouts of bell-ringers complete with an animatronic arm to ring the bell.
In places where neither real live bell-ringers nor cardboard cutouts are available they are testing to see if an electronic jingle and a recorded greeting will do as well at keeping the dollars and dimes dropping. For the Army’s sake and for the sake of the needy who they are trying to serve one would hope that this strategy is effective for them. But I have a funny feeling that instead of dollars dropping in they will find donations dropping off.
I don’t think that these unmanned solutions, as creative as they are, will be nearly as effective as locations where a real live person is taking the collection. Why is that? Simply because it is much more difficult to ignore a real person who is volunteering time out of their own busy schedule to try and help those who are in need at Christmas time. It is far easier to ignore a cardboard cutout or a prerecorded greeting.
And so as we reflect on the plight of the Salvation Army church this holiday season I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t headed toward becoming a church of cardboard Christians. One of the Christmas Realities we have to face is the issue of whether or not we have become nothing more than cardboard characters. In literary analysis a cardboard character is a character in a story that is underdeveloped or poorly developed. In other words it is a character that doesn’t have much character. It is bland and boring and does nothing to distinguish itself from any other character. It just kind of blends in and goes unnoticed.
Are we in danger of having that happen to us as a church? Are we in danger of becoming cardboard Christians or cookie-cutter Christians or carbon copy Christians? No different than anyone else? All looking the same and acting the same and sounding the same? Are we trying too hard to blend in with our culture? And consequently are we just as easily ignored and overlooked as a cardboard cutout propped up next to a Salvation Army kettle? Is there anything to distinguish us? To make us stand out in the crowd? Are we any different than anyone else?
While the church of Jesus Christ has sometimes been guilty of trying to make everyone fit into the same mold – kind of a “one-size-fits-all” Christianity – the apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth and tells them that they should stand out – they should be set apart. In fact there are at least three things that Paul says should make the Christians stand out or stick out. Let’s look at them together:
BY THE GRACE OF GOD WE ARE BEING...
1Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours: 3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the first clues we find here that Paul expected the Christians in Corinth to stand out from the crowd is his use of the phrase “the church of God”. This particular phrase occurs only three times in all of the New Testament and all three times it is used by Paul. Once he uses it in Acts 20 while speaking with the elders from the Ephesian church. And the only other times he uses it are both in the introductions to his letters to the church at Corinth.