Monday, November 25, 2013

In Search of A Better December

Given the official launch into the holiday season this week,
I offer interview with Steven Estes, Author of A Better December

The shopping, the family get-togethers, the office Christmas party, the decorating, the memories of loved ones who are no longer with us . . . What should be the happiest time of the year often becomes a stressful, anxiety-ridden, and emotional season for many who are seeking perfection and trying to meet unrealistic expectations. But December doesn’t have get the better of us.

In A Better December: Proverbs to Brighten Christmas (New Growth Press/October 2013/ISBN 978-1-936768-67-7 /$12.99), pastor and author Steven Estes offers gems of Solomon’s proverbial wisdom to help readers find the joy and celebration we all desire for the Christmas season. Even though Solomon lived long before Christ, and three thousand years prior to our modern observance of Christmas, his wisdom is timeless and remarkably applicable to those who long to find themselves refreshed and renewed instead of depleted and cranky in December. Estes deftly combines the wisdom of Proverbs with humor and touching stories, drawing heavily on traditional holiday themes.

Q: Who is the intended audience for A Better December?

What started as a book primarily for sad, stressed Christians evolved into an outreach book to give to unbelievers as well.

·         People sad at Christmas (singles, widows, elderly, those who have lost loved ones, students or soldiers far from home, people who long for the holidays of their yesteryears)
·         People stressed at Christmas (those dreading the shopping malls, visits to the in-laws, boring office parties)
·         People wanting a spiritual read at Christmas (without being “preachy”)
·         Non-Christian friends and neighbors. The book is a back‑door introduction to the gospel that starts lightly with humor, moves to poignant stories, and by the end, introduces folks to Jesus.

Q: Christmas is supposed to be a time of family, joy and celebration. Why is it so often a time of stress and anxiety?

Perfection. Unrealistic expectations. Trying to shake a snow-globe Christmas out of every holiday. For others, it’s the obligation to visit relatives who make you bristle. For some, the financial pressure of needing to appear generous. Plus, Christmas intensifies almost every sorrow of life. People out of work, divorced, never‑married, widowed, bereaved, far from home, estranged from family, or bereft of romance can find the season unbearable. That’s because it’s a time they are supposed to be doubly happy. The carols and bells that delight one person depress and embitter another. Plus, Christmas comes in the year's most sun‑deprived week.

Q: Obviously, the Proverbs were written long before Christmas was ever celebrated. How did you make the connection between Solomon’s wisdom and the holiday season?

The connection between Solomon and Christmas is tongue-in-cheek. People know about his vaunted wisdom, but do they know about his savvy market research where he predicted a major future trend: the Christmas holidays? Solomon wrote his blockbuster Proverbs to help future readers navigate December.

As a pastor, I preach on Christmas themes each year, but the New Testament narratives about Jesus’ birth are few. So for a change, one year I scoured Proverbs for any counsel it might offer on how to face December’s typical challenges: materialism, stress, loneliness, etc. The resulting sermon was the basis for A Better December. But when morphing that sermon into book form, this thought loomed clearer and clearer: Solomon offers good advice—but good advice (even divine advice) is never enough. What we need most is a Person to help us with stress and sadness, and to change the selfishness in us that Christmas often provokes.

So A Better December was written to: 1) give Solomon's good advice about Christmas; 2) disappoint us with that advice because, ultimately, it is still a self‑help project; and 3) make us hunger for someone better than Solomon. This leads us to Jesus, who said of himself, "Someone greater than Solomon is here."

Q: Could you give us a couple of your favorite examples of Solomon’s wisdom, and how they apply to Christmas?

There are so many to choose from:

·         Solomon likes winter, noting that “the coolness of snow . . . refreshes the spirit” (25:13).
·         He has an eye for “an ornament of fine gold” on a tree (25:12), and for the “fool full of food” at the holiday office party (30:22). But don’t assume that everyone smiling in the room is happy, he cautions, for “even in laughter the heart may ache” (14:13).
·         He feels for tired parents whose kids come bouncing from their rooms before dawn on the big day: “If you shout a pleasant greeting to your neighbor too early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse!” (27:14).
·         He counsels us that dazzling gifts won’t dazzle for long: “Death and destruction and never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man” (27:20).
·         To shopping addicts, he urges: ‘Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil” (15:16).
·         To those overly lenient with rowdy kids over the holidays, he warns: “If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end” (29:21).
·         Get yourself some joy when passing those sidewalk bell-ringers with their red kettles, because “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done” (19:17).
·         Write a letter to a soldier overseas this time of year, he prods, for “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land” (25:25).

And the above is Solomon just getting warmed up.

Q: What do you hope each reader will walk away with from reading A Better December?

Solomon is good, but Jesus is better. The former can lead you to the latter.



Steven Estes pastors an Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, PA, teaches a preaching class at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia), and is on the board of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He is the author of Called to Die (the story of slain missionary Chet Bitterman), and co-author (with Joni Eareckson Tada) of When God Weeps and A Step Further. He and his wife have eight children. Learn more about Estes and his books at www.steveestes.net

No comments: