Church leaders in Smithfield have many messages they want to share with their flocks this Christmas season.
In his sermon this past Sunday, the Rev. David Beck, senior pastor at Centenary United Methodist Church, focused on living without fear. He talked about the angel telling Joseph that Mary was pregnant.
Beck said the angel brought three gifts: news of Jesus’ birth and the news that Jesus would forgive everyone’s sin. “(And) the gift not talked about the most,” Beck said, “the Angel says to Joseph, ‘Do not be afraid.’ So with Jesus coming into the world, he dispels our fear and helps us. We don’t have to be afraid anymore because of what he’s done for us; he takes away that fear.”
Beck said that throughout the Bible, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” and “I’m here to help you.” The light of Christ dispels fear, Beck said. For his Christmas Eve sermon, Beck said he would talk about how the light of Christ can come into a person’s life and dispel darkness.
These sermons, Beck said, would be a chance to reach more people than usual. “This Sunday will be a big service for us,” he said on Thursday. Beck said he sees people at the Christmas services he doesn’t see during the rest of the year.
“I hope that they take away from (the services) that church is open to everybody, and we offer them hope, and we offer them hope in Christ,” he said. “They can search the world over, but they won’t find true peace except in Jesus.”
Elder Kenneth Matthews of Shiloh Christian Church said he would use his Christmas sermon to encourage his congregation to go out and share Jesus with others. “I plan on trying to make sure that the membership here understand the responsibility we have to go forth and shine for the light, the message, that he has come to herald,” Matthews said.
During the Christmas season, Matthews said, his thoughts turn to “the plight of the poor, the plight of the suffering, the plight of those who are without.”
“If the Christian message is not applied in that area, then we don’t really have any effectiveness beyond what we do here,” Matthews said.
Shiloh Baptist Church has a soup kitchen and food pantry. Matthews said providing for people shows Jesus’ greatest message, his love, and helps satisfy peoples’ greatest need, to know they are loved and cared for.
The Rev. Lee Colbert, pastor of First Baptist Church, planned to share the hope, joy and love of Jesus. “It was a tough world 2,000 years ago,” he said. “It’s tough now. But, you know, the Christ child comes to still give us hope. We may not know what the future holds, (but) we know who holds the future, and that’s in the palm of his hand. Hopefully that’s a reason to give us hope to keep plodding along.”
Colbert said he thinks of people who are spending their first Christmas without a loved one. He tries to visit as many as he can and likes that many in his congregation also reach out to them.
The Rev. Jim Melnyk, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said he planned to talk about how God’s spirit works within people. “As human beings created in God’s image, there are times that we really need a God who has skin, a God who has flesh like us, to be able to identify,” he said. “And that part of awe of Christmas is an understanding of God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us.”
Connecting with people is not a one-time event, Melnyk said. “That incarnation is the continual act of God breaking into this world through the lives of God’s people,” he said. “That we become in essence the incarnation of God through God’s spirit working in us. And that our challenge is to find the ways that we can reveal God’s presence in this world as God’s people.”
Melnyk said the polarization of America is on his mind this Christmas season. That’s not just national politics, but also local politics, the church and society in general, he said. “We seem to have become a very polarized people,” Melnyk said. “There are constant battle lines being drawn.”
People have become angry and can’t talk about things civilly, he said. “Christmas is a time where God found common ground with humanity where no common ground maybe seemed possible, and maybe it can serve as a reminder that as people created in God’s image, that we need to learn again how to treat one another as people in God’s image.”