With congregants struggling financially and shootings in Connecticut bringing tragedy to the Christmas season, local pastors are focusing sermons on what they describe as the true meaning of the holiday.
At Woodmar United Methodist Church, the congregation has dedicated its time to a “A Different Kind of Christmas.”
“We've been looking at ways to down scale our Christmas spending and partying and all that kind of good stuff we do at Christmastime,” said the Rev. Alex Stone, pastor of the Hammond church. “How we get so busy around Christmas that we are sometimes robbed of the joy and peace of the season.”
Stone picked the theme because a lot of people in his congregation and the community are finding trouble in pulling off the holiday celebration.
“How do we do Christmas this year when I have lost my job?” Stone said. “When I am working a retail job and don't have the income I once had? How am I supposed to provide for Christmas when I don't have the means this year?
"What is Christmas really about. Is it really about gifts and all the trapping that goes along with Christmas or is it really more about commemorating Jesus and his influence in the world and about spending time with each other?”
Two churches — First Christian Reformed Church in Crown Point and Liberty Bible Church in Chesterton — have explored the promises God made in the Old Testament that were fulfilled when Jesus was born.
The Rev. Joel Sheeres, senior pastor of the Crown Point church, said he wanted to show his congregation something different than the Christmas story, so he centered his December sermons on the promises God made at the beginning of the Bible.
The message is important for an Advent series to keep focus on the Messiah who is coming, said Bob Nienhuis, senior pastor of Liberty Bible Church.
“We have a building sense of anticipation as we move closer and closer to Christmas,” Nienhuis said. “I just think that it's so important because of all the messages we hear in the weeks leading up to Christmas that distract us from the true meaning of Christmas.”
At Queen of All Saints Church in Michigan City, the Rev. Kevin Huber plans to share the interconnectedness of the main characters in Jesus' birth.
“I was looking at the persons of Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and thinking to myself, 'What do all these folks have in common?' And all three of them, I realized, share one thing in common, and that is that the Lord took them where they were and then moved them to where they needed to be,” Huber said.
“Mary was there in Nazareth, and you know what? They ended up in Bethlehem ... that was to fulfill the prophesy. Shepherds were in the field, and they came to the manger. And all these different ways our Lord's hand is clearly working in all of that.”
After the Newtown, Conn., shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, pastors broke from their holiday messages to help their congregations cope.
Stone at Woodmar United Methodist reminded churchgoers the shootings are not part of God's will.
“It's kind of made for a weird Christmas kind of feel with that tragedy in the air and how to deal with that,” Stone said. “How we can maintain our hope and our joy when the world around us seems so hopeless.”
The Rev. Lionel Young, of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, said he plans to discuss Newtown at length.
“I think we are all grieving as a nation over the pain and suffering of a community that has endured so much,” Young said by email. “I am planning to talk about how Christ brings hope to all of us in times of darkness.”