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How We Forgot the Poverty of Christmas

The Incarnation is not a story we can package or market. It is also the greatest story ever told.

We don’t believe in Christmas anymore.

We believe in Christmas gatherings, Christmas shopping, and Christmas recitals, of course, and even Christmas outreach events and Christmas acts of charity. If you are reading this issue of CT while fighting tryptophan-induced sleep, you know that Christmas has dominated our mass-mediated imagination since before Halloween. Christmas is the piece de resistance of a year spent hustling from one “big event” to another, anticipating the next holiday as we try to enjoy the present one.

Christmas is the biggest celebration on the calendar. But we know not what we celebrate.

Church leaders are in a major bind with this one. They have to compete with the usual rivals—Santa Claus, TV specials, and generic holiday cheer that can be felt without taking the family to a church. This year, Christian leaders face the allure of the new Star Wars. In a tossup between the baby Jesus and Luke Skywalker, I’m not sure most Christians would bet on the Christ Child over the Jedi Fighter.

In an effort to capture their neighbors’ flitting attention, churches have perfected their Christmastime marketing game. It’s no longer the Christmas sermon; it’s four weeks of “Unwrapping Christmas” or “An Upside-Down Christmas,” with children’s programs and four weekend services—all requiring members’ time and energy—to match. In a 2011 Charisma article on “the 12 mistakes of Christmas outreach,” the No. 1 mistake is “not planning for something great.” Even God knows you gotta have a WOW moment: “The Incarnation was one of God’s Biggest Ideas,” write the authors. “Create …

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