The Christmas season is upon us again, and with it comes a unique mixture of sacred, secular, wholesome, sinful, pagan and Christian opportunities and obstacles. Christmas is a time of year that affects almost all of us in one way or another.
Following the Civil War, Southern Baptists, who had not been particularly involved with Christmas, began to embrace the holiday. Churches became more and more Christmas-friendly, as evidenced in the singing, plays, nativity scenes, fellowships, musical presentations, children’s events, and various opportunities to serve and witness.
A major influence in the Southern Baptist Convention’s embrace of the Christmas holiday was Lottie Moon, missionary to China. In 1887, she wrote a letter to the Foreign Mission Journal, proposing a season of prayer and giving among our churches for international missions. She suggested the week before Christmas.
She wrote: “Is not the festive season, when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of the one Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches … to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the world?”
Stephen Wilson writes that for many years “the centerpiece of Southern Baptist holiday activities remained the promotion of the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for the support of foreign missions.”
Lottie Moon was not accepted when she first arrived in China, but as she became more and more like the Chinese, she was more widely accepted and trusted. One thing that helped her connect with the Chinese was the teacakes, or cookies, she made for them.
Maybe someone would like to offer “Lottie Moon cookies” to a gathering this Christmas and use it to open the door for some gospel conversations. Here is the adapted recipe: 2 cups flour, ½ cup butter, 1 heaping cup of sugar, 1 well-beaten egg, and 1 tablespoon of cream. Mix the ingredients thoroughly into dough. Roll the dough on a flat surface sprinkled with flour and cut the dough with a round cookie cutter. Place on a buttered or nonstick cooking sheet and bake for 475 degrees for approximately five minutes.
Lottie’s original recipe for “Plain Tea Cakes” was 3 teacups of sugar, 1 teacup of butter, 1 teacup of sour milk, 4 pints of flour, 3 eggs well beaten, and ½ teaspoon of soda. Her advice was to “bake in a quick oven.”
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is a strong tradition in the SBC. The International Mission Board’s statement regarding the offering is that “100 percent of gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering fund IMB missionaries who are making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached people and places.”
If we really want to send more money to international mission work, we do not necessarily need to reorganize the convention or even designate money to the International Mission Board. Give through your local church to the Cooperative Program. Then, simply increase the amount you give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This year, the national goal is $160 million, which goes to support 5,000 missionaries and their work across the globe.
While the Week of Prayer for International Missions is not the week before Christmas, as Lottie Moon originally requested, it is still observed. This year it is Dec. 4-11.
This is a Christmas tradition that we can totally support. It is an opportunity to demonstrate that Southern Baptists are better together. To reach this year’s goal will require SBC churches to give with fervor, and even sacrifice. When you make your Christmas list and wrap your Christmas packages, be sure your gift to Lottie Moon stands out. My wife and I are committed to giving our largest Christmas gift to the Lottie Moon Offering.
In our country, Christmas is a merging of secular winter festivals and Christmas traditions. For Southern Baptists, the hallmark of our celebrations used to be the Lottie Moon Offering. Wouldn’t it be great if we again made it the hallmark of our Christmas season?
The early church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus, and we are pretty sure Jesus was not born on Dec. 25. But Jesus was born, died on the cross, and was raised from the dead. Today He lives. The Christmas season, which is usually characterized by the giving of gifts, can be a great opportunity to give a monetary gift that can have eternal impact. It is a time we can celebrate the birth of Jesus and honor Him by giving — and giving sacrificially — to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.