Jesus came to our world to offer 'hope'
Christmas may mean different things to different people, but the fact that God sent Jesus Christ into our world is the fundamental message of Christmas that Christians proclaim throughout the world.
The Rev. Brian Ferguson of Mount Zion Lutheran Church in Hudson said Jesus came to our world to offer "hope" to all.
"As a definition of Christmas we think of 'God Immanuel' which means 'God with us,'" Ferguson said.
The pastor said that he was taught in seminary that most every sermon includes the message from John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
"Christmas is a celebration of the 'giving' part of that verse," Ferguson said. "The promise of everlasting life and salvation comes at Easter."
He said the fact that Jesus came to our world to offer humans a chance for the free gift of forgiveness is the central theme of Christmas.
"It's all about hope," Ferguson said. "Now how Christmas touches each individual could be different. I just met with a family that experienced a death. Then a few minutes later I heard on the radio about the astronaut who was walking in space when he became the father of a child.
"The way each family looks at Christmas may be a bit different, but the central message is still the same - hope. The family who has experienced death has hope that the loved one is in heaven. The family celebrating the birth of child has hope for the baby's future. No matter where you are in life, Christmas offers hope -- that, and Christmas, touches the whole spectrum of life."
Ferguson said it is interesting as to how we re-invent the observance of Christmas on a regular basis.
"I look at my 3-year-old son who is just learning about Jesus and he's excited about presents and a lot of things - you can see the joy in his eyes," Ferguson said. "Then I look at my 11- and 13-year-old boys and I think they are seeing that Christmas is more than presents.
"Hopefully they are seeing the 'faith' part of celebrating Christmas. A group of young people from the church went caroling at some of the homes of our older members and the youths saw the joy in the faces of the people they visited."
Ferguson said Advent, observed the four Sundays before Christmas, is used as a time of waiting. Most people may not realize however, that the waiting is not for the birth of Christ, but for the second coming of Christ.
"Jesus has already been born - we are not waiting for his birth," Ferguson said. "When he died and was raised he promised that he would return. Advent is the observance of the 'between' time - the birth and his second coming.
"What we are doing during Advent is waiting - longing - for his return. His birth at Christmas is a reminder that God's son has been here and will come again."
Ferguson said Christmas and Advent is a great time to look at our lives and the world.
"We don't know when Christ will return, but we should take time to reflect and look at ourselves."
As far as the role of Santa Claus in the Christmas scene, Ferguson said he isn't afraid to include Santa in the process if it comes up.
"Santa, of course, gets plenty of air time in the culture, so I don't need to emphasize it - but there is room for traditions, including Santa," Ferguson said. "I leave that mostly to the parents. We have to preach our message."
Ferguson is excited about a trip he plans to take next spring to Israel and other parts of the Middle East.
"One of the stops is Bethlehem," Ferguson said. "That will be a special treat to see the town where Christ was born."
Mount Zion Lutheran Church, 505 13th St. So., has been a part of Hudson since 1895 and currently has about 380 members. Ferguson came to the church in August 2004. A native of Sandwich, Ill., Ferguson and his wife Rachel have three sons: Liam, 3; Nicolas, 11; and Riley, 13.
Like all Hudson churches, Mount Zion offers Christmas Eve services. Mount Zion's are at 4 p.m. (traditional family service) and 10 p.m. (traditional candlelight service with the senior choir).
"Regardless of a family's circumstances, the consistent message of Christmas is "hope," Ferguson said in conclusion. "It's true no matter where you are in life."