Clergy's Task: Defy the Message of the Malls


Pastor Timothy Thi found his Christmas sermon in Tickle Me Elmo.

On the TV news, he watched shoppers push and shove for the furry red doll that toy stores can't keep in stock. Where, he thought, is the meaning of Christmas in that?

So this year, at the Vietnamese Evangelical Church in Anaheim, he sat down to write his Christmas sermon with the Elmo craze in mind.

"The first Christmas message was 'I bring you good tidings, good news,' " he said Tuesday. "In order to have real joy, it is from the heart. It is something spiritual. But we are looking for material things."

On Christmas Eve throughout Orange County, pastors put the finishing touches on their Christmas sermons, struggling with ways to bring home the message of Christ's birth during a time when the joy of the season is sometimes measured by what's under the tree.

At Grand Avenue United Methodist Church, Santa Ana Pastor Robert Ness' thoughts turned to his 6-week-old grandson, Zachary, as he wrote his Christmas sermon.

And he decided to focus his message on the simple birth of baby Jesus in a stable.

"Amid all the hectic atmosphere, some people sit in the pew, and they're just thankful that [Christmas] is over," Ness said. "And some sit in the pew and are thinking of all the things left to do. And a lot of children and some adults are thinking about the worldly things they're going to get.

"But most of all, we hope during the worship service, they will reflect that they've been given the greatest of all gifts--the forgiveness of sin and their relationship with God."

In Saddleback Valley, Calvary Chapel Pastor Neil Travisano's Christmas Eve sermon included a story involving a sailor, an American couple and a piano player.

It's a true story, he said, that he read in a Christian magazine.

It happened, he said, that this American couple ended up in a Paris restaurant on a rainy Christmas Eve. Everyone was glum.

A downcast flower seller was wet and cold; she had done no business all day. And then an American sailor walked in and changed everything.

He bought a corsage from the flower peddler. The price was 1 franc; he gave her 20. The flower peddler danced with joy. Now she would have money for dinner.

The sailor approached the American couple and joked to the husband: Can I please give this flower to your daughter? The couple laughed, pleased. A piano player got caught up in the spirit and began playing.

"It was the best Christmas they ever had," Travisano said. "Sometimes all we need to do is show a little love and concern, and be a little more generous than we normally would.

"A little 20 franc note--it was more than just the giving. It was his attitude of giving and a loving spirit."

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