Christmas time for religion, fun

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 23, 2001

NATCHEZ – Striking the right balance between religious and secular Christmas activities should not be a problem, most Natchez-area ministers and their families agree.

For the Rev. Gary Nunn and his family, the holidays provide some of the most joyful experiences of the year.

&uot;We haven’t removed the idea of Santa Claus. That’s a part of childhood,&uot; said Nunn, pastor at First Baptist Church in Vidalia, La. &uot;But before we open any presents on Christmas morning, we read the Christmas story from the Bible.&uot;

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His wife, Kristin Nunn, said the proper balance at Christmastime comes naturally if a family keeps a good balance in Christianity the year around.

&uot;As Christians, we are allowed the freedom to have fun. We’re not long-faced, morbid people,&uot; she said. &uot;This of all times is a time to be merry, to celebrate the wonderful event of Jesus’ birth.&uot;

At the Nunn household, which includes two children, Tyler, 12, and Alicia, 11, Christmas indeed is Christ centered. &uot;But the other side of Christmas has never been a problem for us,&uot; said Mrs. Nunn, a fifth-grade teacher at Vidalia Upper Elementary School. &uot;We just never have let it be an issue. We enjoy Santa Claus the way we would enjoy Disney World.&uot;

Gary Nunn said one way his family – and his congregation – keep Christmas in perspective is to reach out to people in need.

&uot;We take part in what is called the ‘shoebox ministry.’ We fill shoeboxes with small items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, little notepads and toys,&uot; he said. &uot;They go to children in third-world countries who have nothing.&uot;

The Rev. Derek McNamara, pastor at Covington Road Church of Christ, also has young children, a son, 11, and a daughter, 8. &uot;We talk to our kids about Christmas and what it means,&uot; he said. &uot;We have a tree, we exchange gifts and we watch the Christmas movies.&uot;

Christmas is a time to be centered on the birth of Christ, but it also is a time for establishing family traditions, said McNamara, who was born in Ireland but also has lived in South Africa, Germany and England

&uot;Some of my earliest memories are of Christmastime,&uot; he said. &uot;What we do now with our family is how the children will remember the celebration.&uot;

McNamara believes Christianity provides joy and especially at Christmastime.

&uot;But Christianity is not for one day,&uot; he said. &uot;Too many people come to church on Christmas Day and fill their bottles with Christianity. They open the bottles when they get into trouble and find they’re empty; and they wonder why.&uot;

The Rev. David deVries of First Presbyterian Church has a dream of celebrating Christmas in a new way with his family. &uot;The children are too young now,&uot; he said. &uot;But in a couple of years, I’d like to try it.&uot;

His idea is first to celebrate Christmas as a festival of good will and then to celebrate the true meaning of the holy day during a quiet weekend with just his family.

&uot;I’d like for us to take a quiet weekend together and celebrate the birth of a child into our family, as we celebrated the birth of both of our children,&uot; deVries said. &uot;It would have nothing to do with how the house looks, getting the cards out or wrapping gifts.&uot;

Pastors often have their own special needs during the high-profile seasons such as Christmas. The Rev. J. William Hurt of First Baptist Church in Natchez said he has to be sure the Christmas story touches his own heart as well as the hearts of his congregation.

&uot;If I haven’t filled my cup, I don’t have anything to give others,&uot; Hurt said. With his wife and two young children, he has the same concerns that other ministers have. But he had a good teacher to show him the way to success.

&uot;I have a great family, and we have a good balance,&uot; he said. &uot;I see some people who go too far the one way and beg you to say, ‘let me get out the Brasso so we can polish your halo.’&uot;

The Hurts enjoy holiday parties and gift giving, and the children have enjoyed all the trappings of the American-style Christmas.

&uot;We try to remember presents, but also His presence. That’s what we emphasize, His presence,&uot; Hurt said.

&uot;I’m a preacher’s son, and my dad taught me not to tip the balance too far. He taught me about the right balance.&uot;

The Rev. Billy Johnson of Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church finds the commercial side of Christmas troubling. &uot;When we think of Christmas, we should think of self-sacrifice,&uot; he said. &uot;The eternal Christ left the glory, honor and riches of Heaven, which He so deserved, and entered the world of man.&uot;

Christ’s birthday should be a time of joy. To celebrate, Pine Ridge church holds a birthday party for Jesus each year, this year taking place today at the church.

&uot;To take all the sacrifice that Christ made to redeem us and celebrate that with worldliness is a travesty,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;We should be a little less materialistic and a little more spiritual. This is not a time to eat, drink and be merry but to be thankful for all He has done for us.&uot;

The world is a far better place because of the birth of Christ, Johnson said. &uot;The Taliban. That is what you would have instead of Christ.&uot;

Since the September 11 attacks on America, some of the enemies of Christ have been silenced, he said.

Kristin Nunn has noted a difference in children this Christmas season as opposed to holidays in prior years. She looks to the September 11 events as the reason.

&uot;They seem to be enjoying the moment more. There is less whining and complaining. They are more prone to want a hug – that extra affirmation,&uot; she said.

&uot;I hope as a country we can dig down deep and find renewed meaning in Christmas,&uot; she said. &uot;And I hope it will carry through the entire year.&uot;

On Christmas morning, when the Nunns carry out their tradition of reading the story of Christ’s birth in the book of Luke, young Tyler will read.

&uot;Last year, he received a new Bible just before Christmas, and we asked him to read the story,&uot; Mrs. Nunn said. &uot;We didn’t know it would mean so much to him.&uot;

This year, once again, he will take his father’s place as the reader. &uot;He is so excited. He can hardly wait,&uot; his mother said.