122218_jerry johns

The Rev. Jerry Johns sits in the sanctuary of Pine Ridge Baptist Church in Brunswick. The pastor encourages Christians to use the Christmas season as a time to focus on self-improvement and embracing others.

The world looks very different than it did on that silent night 2,000 years ago. Things were certainly simpler in the time of Christ, after all, there were no cars, no televisions, no social media.

On the surface, there seems to be no real similarities between the Biblical era and our own. But that’s not true. In fact, it’s human nature itself that provides a pointed link.

In Jesus’ time, families and friends held to one another, hoping to live and thrive just as they do today. Ancient people sought happiness, just as their modern counterparts.

The darker side is also true. People harbored intense prejudices that created divides, which often bled into violence. Sadly, 2018 is not all that different. Political infighting and international strife are rampant. Prejudices have led to atrocities, and war is never far away.

But, for the faithful, Christ is still the answer to the chaos — just as he was on that first Christmas night. It is a message that the Rev. Alan Dyer will be sharing with his congregation at St. Simons Presbyterian Church.

“The message of Christmas is the same today as it has always been. In the midst of a hurting world, God chooses to come in human form — to become like one of us,” Dyer said.

“In a tumultuous world such as ours, Christians keep the focus on Christ by living every day with the same gentleness, grace, compassion and love that the babe in the manger grew up to live.”

Embracing unity and compassion is the legacy of Jesus, who is often referred to as the Prince of Peace. That, Dyer understands, can be difficult in this day and time. But he points out that, when Christ became man, he was acutely aware of the challenges that humanity faced. That was true in ancient times, and it is true today.

“The good news of the incarnation then is that God is not distant but rather knows the fullness of the human experience — love, hurt, everything. There is nothing we can experience in life that God has not also experienced,” he said.

That understanding can offer a sense of comfort when the road of life gets rocky. It can also help Christians open their hearts rather than finding fault with others.

That is something that the Rev. Jerry Johns hopes everyone will embrace this season. The pastor at Pine Ridge Baptist Church in Brunswick wants Christians to take the time to reflect on their own shortcomings rather than lashing out at others.

“We all have a tendency to minimize our own wrongdoings and maximize other’s. The message Christ shares is that God wants us to flip that and look inward,” he said.

“Then you realize that, ‘I have to fix me first, then I can love my neighbor as myself.’”

Instead of passing judgement, Johns hopes the faithful will seek to move into the new year with more openness. While it can be difficult in a time of staunch division, he feels it’s of critical importance. And it is something Johns makes a point to focus on in his own life.

“I think that this is true of every preacher, when we’re up there preaching ... the first person we’re talking to is ourself. I’m guilty and I have to have some humility and realize that the problem with the world is me,” he said.

“I am flawed, and I’m a sinner. I needed a savior to come for me. And when you realize that Jesus forgave you, it makes us more willing to forgive others. We need to start helping other people and stop all the finger pointing.”

Christmas as well as the new year, Johns says, is the perfect time to reorient one’s attention and focus on changing perspective. He encourages all to take this time to begin anew.

“The past is gone ... 2018 is gone. Let it go. Start fresh with God. Start over with forgiveness because God allows a second, third and fourth chance. If you blew it in 2018, ask for forgiveness and forgive yourself then start over,” he said.

“Say ‘I’m going to put God first and I’m going to be a giver instead of a taker.’ It’s a conscious decision. When you meet someone, think about how you can be a blessing to them rather than how they can help you.”

Johns adds that even small steps can make a big difference. And doing those little things can add up.

“It can be as simple as letting a car ahead of you in line. It’s the small steps ... that’s where we can start being of service to others,” he said. “If everybody starts doing that, we’re going to see a lot of change.”

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