As 'Black Friday' dawns, pastors urge greater focus on the true meaning of Christmas

Melissa Thompson holds the umbrella while Renee Cottrill, Caitlin Flores and Cheri Thompson join her and hundreds of others in line outside Oakwood Mall waiting for JCPenney to open at around 2 p.m. Thursday. (Staff photo)

ENID, Okla. — As shoppers head out today in search of Black Friday deals, pastors are urging the faithful to balance their consumer spending with more focus on the spiritual side of the holidays.

The National Retail Federation predicts holiday shoppers will spend about $730 billion this year — an average of $1,047.83 per consumer, up 4% over last year.

There's nothing wrong with holiday shopping, within reason, said Maj. John Edmonds of the Salvation Army of Enid.

Edmonds complimented the Enid community on its generosity in giving, which has led to several records for the Salvation Army over the last year, in its Red Kettle collections and volunteer hours during the holiday season.

Shopping for gifts for others also can be an expression of love and charity, he said. "They are going out to give to others and to help others, and that's good," Edmonds said.

But, he added, "if we go by Scripture, it's always better to give than to receive."

Whatever people do to celebrate the Christmas season, Edmonds urged them to do it for the true purpose of the holiday.

"You just need to be mindful that Jesus is the reason for the season," he said. "We've already received the greatest gift we will ever receive."

Kelly Russell, pastor at First Baptist Church of Enid, said there's nothing wrong with secular Christmas traditions. He said there just needs to be a better balance between the material and spiritual aspects of the holiday.

"Really, I think the Christmas season reminds us to love God for the gift he's given us, and to serve others," Russell said. "Even the material part of Christmas really is about giving to others, and any way we can give to others is a way to glorify God."

He urged people to not become so focused on, or stressed by, holiday events that they "miss the everyday grace that Jesus supplies us."

To maintain focus, Russell encouraged families to read together the biblical Christmas story.

Mark McAdow, pastor at Willow View United Methodist Church, also encouraged scriptural readings to stay in touch with the meaning of the holiday, and not get overwhelmed with the trappings and social obligations.

"Begin with Scripture, so you stay grounded in what the season is about," McAdow said.

His favorite is the second chapter of Luke's Gospel, which covers the birth of Jesus through the boy Jesus at the Temple. For overachievers, he recommended reading a full Gospel during Advent, the church season which begins Sunday and runs up to Christmas.

In addition to prayer and reading, Wade Burleson, pastor at Emmanuel Enid, encouraged people to not spend beyond their financial means.

"We always see more people at the beginning of the year, who are in financial trouble because they have overextended themselves in the Christmas season," Burleson said.

He said how people use and relate to money during the Christmas season can be "a spiritual barometer on how things are going for you."

Burleson pointed to Philippians 4:11, in which Paul wrote he "learned to be content whatever the circumstances."

"When you stay within your means, it shows a sign of inner contentment," Burleson said. "To overextend, it shows you're not content, and you're trying to attain something you can't afford. If you stay within your means, God blesses that."

For people who have more money available, Burleson encouraged them to give to charitable causes that help others.

Burleson said Emmanuel Enid will be hosting a financial counseling class in January. Anyone interested, or who needs help in that regard, can contact the church at (580) 237-0602.

The nonprofit consumer credit counseling service American Consumer Credit Counseling offers tips for Christmas shopping on a budget at https://tinyurl.com/XMas-Budget-Shopping.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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