Way back in 1907, British Wesleyan preacher William L. Watkinson observed that “It is far better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Those words have been incorrectly attributed to everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Confucius to many non-profit charities.
Watkinson’s simple phrase resonates with most of us—especially Christians—and encourages us to do positive works here on Earth rather than simply whine or bemoan poverty, injustice, and other ills without doing all within our power to serve our risen Lord in this fallen world. We know that God ultimately invites us to surrender to Him—in both repentance and faith—in the days before His final judgment comes.
This brings me to Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas. Since 1989, Prestonwood’s senior pastor Jack Graham has led what is acknowledged as one of America’s largest and most dynamic congregations…which has grown under his leadership from 8,000 in 1989 to over 49,000 members today (including me, my wife, and our daughter.) It's live online community draws worshippers from all over the world.
For over a quarter of a century, Prestonwood has mounted an annual Christmas pageant called “The Gift of Christmas.” It is—in a word—spectacular. This year’s edition features almost 1,000 volunteer cast members, a live orchestra, and special effects (indoor fireworks, live angels floating over the audience, live donkeys and camels walking down the sanctuary aisles and onstage) culminating with an onstage performance featuring the Magi—the three kings Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar—kneeling in awe as they honor the baby Jesus. The entire cast and the Prestonwood choir sing “O Holy Night” as the orchestra swells and Prestonwood’s amazing high-tech special effects and lighting close the evening to thunderous applause.
Before the audience is dismissed, one of Prestonwood’s associate pastors offers an invitation for those who have not yet accepted Jesus into their hearts to join him in reciting a prayer; he then asks those who did so to turn on their cellphones and many hundreds in the audience do so. And this isn’t “just for show”: when our daughter Ellie was just 6 years old, we brought her to “The Gift of Christmas.” She ran up to a cast member in the lobby afterward…announced she had accepted Jesus…and was baptized three weeks later.
So with all that as a backdrop, it came as a huge disappointment to learn that Prestonwood’s “Gift of Christmas” performances this year are being attacked on social media by online trolls who whine that the production is “too extravagant” and suggest that money spent on the production should instead go to help the poor. The ultra-liberal Dallas Morning News (https://www.dallasnews.com/news/faith/2022/12/01/plano-megachurch-faces-backlash-over-extravagant-christmas-show/) headlined a supposed “backlash” and “blistering criticism” by commenters on Tik-Tok and Instagram. Another paper screamed in its headline: “Plano megachurch criticized for extravagant Christmas show.” (https://dentonrc.com/plano-megachurch-criticized-for-extravagant-christmas-show/article_a2b017ee-688c-5eb0-b9da-86d550ad6358.html)
Pathetically, the person who kicked off the controversy by posting a Tik Tok video of rehearsals for “The Gift of Christmas” admits he hasn’t seen the performance…acknowledges “disdain” he has for churches… and just found parts of the rehearsal “objectively funny.” (This is the linear equivalent of watching a 15-second clip from “Gone With The Wind” and then posting Tik Tok videos that say it is just a boring Civil War movie.)
I shared a one-minute video clip of the finale of “The Gift of Christmas” with nationally syndicated talk show host Mike Gallagher—along with links to some of the sadly misinformed criticisms. Mike responded: “I got chills from your video. Anyone who would criticize that not only doesn’t know your church but doesn’t know Christmas. Or the Lord.”
Which is precisely the point. Seeing the eternal impact on our daughter years ago—as well as two friends we invited to “The Gift of Christmas” this past weekend accepting Jesus on the spot—convinces me that Prestonwood Baptist Church is doing God’s work here on Earth. And amid the nightmarish decline of our society and morals especially over the past two years, the aftermath of making decisions for Christ is the best gift anyone could ever receive. Certainly far better than a welfare check or a free block of government cheese.
So with apologies to William L. Watkinson, while I continue to pray for those who scrambled to top each other with more hysterical attacks on “The Gift of Christmas,” there’s a small, admittedly sinful part of me that does curse the darkness that they embrace so easily. 1,000+ volunteers and technicians and pastors deserve better than to be smeared and made fun of on social media by Lilliputians who haven’t even bothered to attend one of Prestonwood’s sold-out performances this year. One day, when some of them are screaming for ice water in Hell, it will be too late to repent.
But there’s still hope for most of them: “The Gift of Christmas” will return once again in December 2023. And in the meantime, they can always feel free to attend regular Sunday worship at Prestonwood Baptist Church. They likely will find it is much more welcoming than their misguided attacks led them and others to believe.
Tom Tradup is V.P./News & Talk for Dallas-based Salem Radio Network; he can be reached email@example.com