When it comes to populating the pews, it doesn’t get any bigger than Christmas. It’s the World Series, Final Four or Wimbledon of the ecclesiastical world.

As Carol Pipes, editor of Facts & Trends, observed for LifeWay Research: “In a recent poll of 1,000 Americans, Lifeway found that six out of 10 Americans typically attend church at Christmastime. But among those who don’t attend church at Christmastime, a majority (57 percent) say they would likely attend if someone they knew invited them.”

So, whether you’re a regular or an annual church attender, Our Faith is happy to present its annual preview of Christmas-themed sermons. Since our county boasts over 300 active churches, these are but a sampling.

Clay Bowers, who pastors Texas City’s Northside Baptist, will start by talking up Olivia. No, that name isn’t in the Bible, but he’ll explain.

“Christmas is all about presents for most people,” Bowers told Our Faith. “And, it seems we all have our favorite present; the one that tops all the rest. Mine came a few days before Christmas 1989. My sweet baby girl, Olivia was born. She is smart, accomplished and full of life. She is still my baby girl and I am still her Daddio. I have been given no greater Christmas present than her. This Sunday we will have a few of our folks share what their favorite Christmas present of all times was. But as wonderful as presents are they pale in comparison to what it means to have the presence of Jesus Christ in your life. So, this Sunday, I will be sharing why Jesus is better than any gift we could ever get under the tree.”

Down on the island, the Rev. Richard Rhoades of Galveston’s First Lutheran has chosen a similar theme, though he’ll lead with Hot Wheels.

“I can so clearly remember as a child making a Christmas list for Santa: Legos, Lincoln Logs, Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels, and the lists would go on,” Rhoades shared. “Remarkably on Christmas morning there would be packages under the tree and indeed some of what I had on my list. So, why did Santa always leave the other gifts like socks? I also can be honest that though I did play with the toys, that those unexciting mystery gifts of clothes were used year-round and for much longer. The gifts I was unsure about ended up being the most beneficial.

At the center of the Christmas celebration is the birth of a baby in a small out of the way town. God shows up in what seemed so ordinary and unglamorous a scene. Yet what is given to us at Christmas is exactly what we need the most—God’s abiding and steadfast love in Jesus. What is given is what we will use the most.”

Across the island just a bit, the Rev. Marc James of Jerusalem Baptist is looking to the stars in what he says will not be a typical Christmas sermon.

“It is designed to encourage all to know that God has a divine purpose for all believers, but there must be first be a change of focus,” James will preach. “People must look to God for direction and divine purpose. The shepherds saw the star and came to worship and the wise came from afar with gifts and worshiped by following the star in the sky.”

Nick Earl, the deacon in charge at Galveston’s Grace Episcopal, will begin not with toys or stars, but on relationships this Sunday.

“When I read scripture, I read one long story of a God who is relational,” Earl explained. “I read the Old Testament and God’s continued efforts to call Israel back into relationship. I read the story of Jesus and his desire to heal the sick and destitute--not simply to restore them to health but to restore them to community. That is still the mission of the church: to call people into community, to be in relationship, and to live alongside those who are lost or hurting—not to change them, but to love them.

As we celebrate the incarnation, God’s taking on of human flesh, we celebrate the intimate relationship we now share: human with God, God and human together. On Easter we will celebrate what Jesus did. For now, we celebrate that Jesus simply is.”

Up the freeway in Dickinson, the Rev. Ted Duck, longtime leader of Pine Drive Community Church, finds that Harvey’s devastation has created a picture that reflects some of the humility that birth in a stable offered the holy family.

“Christmas 2017 was not normal for our church,” Duck recalled. “We were experiencing the aftereffects of Harvey: Bare floors, folding chairs, walls without Sheetrock, not to mention the members of our family that were displaced from their own homes and not present with us. Christmas is the day we celebrate the entrance of the eternal, all-holy and glorious God into our world. Then I look at the scene of baby Jesus lying in the manager, my conclusion is that we are no longer alone. Whenever we are tempted to cry out, ‘Lord, you don’t know what it’s like be humiliated like this,’ He points to the manger. Jesus came with the shadow of the cross over the manger to remind us that we might have eternal life.”

Merry Christmas from Our Faith.

Next week in Our Faith: Share the blessings of adoption as several grateful families reflect on it at Christmas.

Rick Cousins can be reached at rick.cousins@galvnews.com.

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