Across the city, decorations are going up and Birmingham is coming alive because it is “the most wonderful time of the year.” We will soon celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, two of our favorite holidays. We look forward to spending time with family that we have not seen in a long time (or family that we see regularly), enjoying our favorite holiday traditions, giving and receiving gifts, spending time off of work, watching football, and eating a lot of delicious food.
While all of those are great reasons to look forward to the holidays, what if focusing on them too much leads us to minimize or completely miss out on some of the best opportunities to show love to and share the gospel with non-believers? For some, the thought of using holidays to invite people into our homes instead of enjoying our traditions as we have always done may seem crazy or something for someone else to do. I’m afraid we so often let good things—even very good things like spending time with family—become idols during the holidays. I want to encourage you to find a way to use your traditions for the advancement of God’s Kingdom this year.
While many of our neighbors have their own families and holiday traditions, there is a group who does not: internationals. You may have heard a statistic that around 75% of international students never enter an American’s home, but it is also true of workers. We had a Middle Eastern family in our English as a Second Language (ESL) class at Brook Hills that we invited to our home for dinner. They were so excited you would have thought we had given them a new car! They had been living in Birmingham for over 3 years and had never been invited into a home before. That dinner led to a close friendship with many gospel conversations that continue today.
If you aren’t involved in ESL or other international ministries, you may be neighbors with or have coworkers from another country. I have a coworker from South Asia who told me over lunch that he had never been invited into an American’s home. Driving back to work I noticed a small statue of Ganesh in his car and after asking a few questions about the statue and what he believes, I asked if he knew anything about Jesus. He replied, “No, but I would like to learn.” We later invited him to a Christmas party in our home, and he brought his family visiting from South Asia! They were able to hear the gospel clearly and sing Christ exalting songs as part of our evening together.
Paul tells the Athenians that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.” What if God sovereignly brings people from around the world to Birmingham in order to hear about Jesus from you this holiday season?
There are thousands of internationals like those above that would love to be invited into your home, love to learn about holidays and American traditions, and love to learn about Jesus. Many come from cultures that treasure family gatherings above all else, and it would bring them tremendous honor to be included in your plans. Many internationals also believe all Americans are Christians. Because most of what they know about the U.S. is what they see on television and the internet, they need followers of Christ to explain the true gospel to them and also model what living it out really looks like.
Thankfully, God has given us two holidays that we can use to share the true gospel. Thanksgiving is more than eating as much turkey as possible before watching the Lions and Cowboys, or planning the best routes for Black Friday shopping. It is a day that we set aside to give thanks to God for his grace in our lives. There is no greater gift to be thankful for than our “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:7-8a). Likewise, Christmas is so much greater than Santa, reindeer, eggnog, and getting presents. The world doesn’t need more jingle bells, the world needs a Savior. In this season, we celebrate that even though we were all lost, running from God and without hope, He loves the world so much that He sent His own son to be the sacrifice for our sins, and that by believing in Him we will be forgiven from our sins and have eternal life through faith in Jesus.
So brothers and sisters, have a Friendsgiving, plan a Christmas party, or extend an invitation to join your family for the holidays. Some family members may question why you brought guests to the family gathering, but that could open an opportunity to share the gospel with a family member with whom you don’t frequently have opportunities for gospel conversations.
Every Sunday we repeat Jesus’ command to make disciples, and God has given us the holidays as an opportunity to do so. I pray The Church at Brook Hills uses the opportunities this season brings to spread the name of Jesus throughout Birmingham, and I pray God uses your conversations as means to shine into hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Brian Park and his wife, Elizabeth, have been members of Brook Hills for three years. Brian works as an IT Project Manager and leads a small group for young couples in their home.