Pastor Tim Chambers spends Christmas Eve thinking of the greatest holiday gift in the world.
The pastor at Shore Fellowship Church in Egg Harbor Township won’t let all the commercialism surrounding Christmas overshadow its most basic lesson — the birth of Jesus Christ.
As residents flocked to churches across the region on Christmas Eve, local pastors, faced with increasing images of commercialism, prepared messages for them to keep in mind while they observe the holiday.
Chambers spent four services at the church Monday describing how Jesus was wrapped after his birth in swaddling clothing, according to some interpretations. He likened Jesus’ presentation to other gifts people will receive on the holiday.
The pastor himself wrapped a few boxes of Twinkies, now a rare and somewhat precious find, for some congregants during his sermons.
“You wrap gifts for a purpose. It matters to you and it has value in it. You wrap gifts because you want people to know you spent time thinking about it,” he said. “Jesus was also a gift. But gifts mean nothing if you are not willing to embrace it.”
Galloway Township resident Brian Wiener said his family works hard to not get over consumed with commercialism on the holiday. The family usually attends two services on Christmas Eve. Wiener said one of the things he and his family pray for is to not be caught up in it.
His mother Dottie Wiener, of Ventnor, said she does not purchase any Christmas gifts or cards during the holiday.
“None of it, I’m so tired of the commercialism,” she said.
Other residents said they’ll spend their day with families.
Galloway resident Brett Duffy said the most important part of the holiday is to be with family. Even though some are working on Christmas Day, he had a celebration over the weekend with some and will meet with others later in the week.
“This is the only time I get to see them,” he said.
At St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish in Northfield, Christmas Eve Mass began with performances of a children’s choir and a children’s performance of the birth of Jesus.
Father Patrick Brady said there have been concerns from parents that children may be overwhelmed by the “extreme commercialism” and they decided to have them be a key part of the service.
“The effort to promote the meaning of Christmas has intensified over the years because the religious elements of Christmas have been gradually removed while many nonreligious elements have replaced them,” he said. “Christmas is ultimately about peace on Earth toward people of good will, and I think that’s a message worth remembering.”
Naomi Smith, 7, went to church an hour before she was set to sing in the choir. She said performing on Christmas is more special than other weeks. The Northfield resident said she believes the important parts of Christmas are about Jesus and being with her family.
Her mother, Gia Pompei, said family is more important this year than others because of the recent tragedies such as in Newtown, Conn.
“It’s more important this year to keep people you love close to you,” she said. “You hope the people affected will enjoy Christmas despite their loss.”
Senior Pastor Ron Watts, of Central United Methodist Church in Linwood, said he will remind his congregants of the simple message of the holiday.
“There is God’s presence in the entire world,” he said. “We are not forgotten, we are not abandoned, we are not alone. God is in this world, and within all the pain, strife and breakings, he offers us heavenly hope.”
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