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Religious leaders to emphasize giving spirit in Christmas messages

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(Josh Peckler – jpeckler@shawmedia.com)
The Rev. Larry Tieman rearranges the alter Friday at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Crystal Lake.

People should be more mindful to extend the Christmas spirit of giving and caring for families, friends and the rest of humanity year-round, area religious leaders plan to tell their flocks today.

Many of McHenry County’s pastors and priests will emphasize the need for a year-round Christmas spirit, especially in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, during their annual Christmas sermons.

For the Rev. Steve Knox, this year’s sermon is about God’s underlying unity with the human spirit. Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., many people’s faith in humanity has been shaken, said Knox, the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntley.

“When bad things happen, people wonder where is God?” Knox said. “I think Christmas and the birth of Christ reminds us that he is always with us, and that we need to be there for each other.”

Knox said a common theme for his sermon this year will be solidarity and how God’s love through the birth of Jesus Christ shows that God is with the human spirit every day.

With the collective mood of the country still somber, people need to be reminded of God’s presence with people, he said.

Knox and his fellow priests will be presiding over seven Christmas services that will draw about 9,000 people total. The Christmas service is one of the most well-attended services of the year for most Christian churches.

At Immanuel Lutheran in Crystal Lake, the Rev. Larry Tieman said he will emphasize the difference between receiving presents and receiving God’s presence. He said his Christmas sermons, which he has been delivering for 21 years, are always structured behind the story of Christ being born in Bethlehem.

The nuance this year, he said, will be about how God’s presence delivered the gift of Jesus and that people need to respond to this by sharing God’s love with family and friends. What happened Dec. 14 in Connecticut has put this idea into focus, he said.

“The theme for us is to be there for everyone – family and friends, people who are hurting. Be there physically for people,” Tieman said. “Instead of spending money on a shiny, new toy, spend our energy being there.”

The Rev. Marcus Bieschke at Willow Creek Church in Crystal Lake said he plans to take a personal tack with his Christmas sermon.

Willow Creek is a nondenominational megachurch that has branches throughout the Chicago area. The Crystal Lake branch expects at least 3,000 people to attend Christmas services.

Bieschke said he will speak about how Jesus’ birth transcended the material nature of Christmas by creating a personal relationship between individuals and God.

The idea about faith and the individual came to him after he witnessed his mother endure treatment for pancreatic cancer this year. She died three months ago, Bieschke said.

“My sermon will be the why behind the what,” Bieschke said. “We know Jesus came to us, but why did he come? It’s about the personal relationship.”

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