Jews for Jesus in the shopping mall during Christmas? Why not? After all, busy shoppers are bound to be intercepted by Santa, blocked by Frosty, and pursued by men and women who are paid to spray their brand of cologne over whosoever will receive it! Why not do something to return their attention to The Reason for the Season”?
Jesus instructed His disciples to “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14:23). In Southern California cars race down the roads at 70 miles per hour and country lanes are non-existent. Yet Jesus still wants us to go out and invite people to get to know Him. So why not go to the shopping malls?
Well, it’s not as easy as all that. Technically, these malls are private property, owned and maintained by people who can welcome Santa in one breath and expel Jesus in the next. And the former is usually much more welcome than the latter! So when we received an invitation for “The Jews for Jesus Singers” to present our music in a certain Southern California mall, I was sure someone had made a mistake. Why would a mall with a very Jewish clientele invite us to sing Jewish gospel music during the busiest season of the year?
I figured that as soon as others in the mall’s administration learned about the error, they would take back the invitation. Weeks went by and instead of a letter rescinding the invitation, we received confirmation that we were on the schedule of “Christmas carolers.”
Two weeks prior to Christmas, the middle court of the mall was completely decked out with wreaths, pine cones, red and white peppermint sticks, and a towering five-story Christmas tree. In the middle of it all was a shiny black grand piano and a sign: “Jews for Jesus Singers!”
Our team must have looked completely out of place in the Yuletide revelry. We were dressed in “shtetl” (old Eastern European village) costumes, looking more like we’d stepped out of “Fiddler On the Roof” than “A Christmas Carol.”
As we began to play “Who Can Retell,” a traditional Hanukkah chorus, people stopped in their tracks. A crowd gathered around us, and as I looked up I could see faces peering over the rails as high as the fourth floor. As we continued to play and I heard people murmur “…they’re Jewish…” and “…we celebrate Hanukkah.” Then we began singing what we call a “Messiahmas Carol,” with a Hebraic melody and words that clearly point to the Messiah:
Rejoice, Rejoice, for King
Messiah’s come to Yisrael.
Rejoice, the Son of David’s come.
I saw people’s perplexed expressions as I looked out from behind the piano. One mother glanced at the “Jews for Jesus” sign, her eyes growing larger than the Christmas tree ornaments! She herded her children away amidst their protests. One shopper loudly exclaimed, “You’re not Jewish!” catching the attention of eight more shoppers who stopped to listen. And the people continued to gather, with a crowd of over 250 at one point during our presentation.
My wrists were starting to ache as I maintained the pounding piano beat of a Scripture-based song called “Great and Wonderful,” when a Jewish man approached to tell me, “The goyim [Gentiles] don’t know what to make of you! They’ve never heard music like this before!” He chuckled, then noticed my Jews for Jesus business cards on the piano and stopped laughing. With an expression of great curiosity he took a card, then hurried away.
One Jewish woman who took a card wanted more information about why we believed in Jesus. Seven Christians who stopped to listen were delighted to meet us because they wanted help reaching their Jewish friends during this celebration of Emmanuel’s birth.
While many shoppers celebrate the “coming” of Santa, the “advent” of festivity and the “celebration” of shopping, Jewish people are the uneasy spectators of this season. Because despite all the trappings, many Christians are faithfully singing about the One who was born the King of Israel. No amount of commercialization can cover the question that this season raises in many Jewish hearts: Why are Christians celebrating the birth of this Jewish baby? We were privileged to bring that very question to the forefront of a very Jewish venue through our presence and our music.
God opens doors in the most unexpected and opportune places. This holiday season presents unique opportunities to tell people about the Messiah and why His birth is cause for celebration among Jews as well as Gentiles. Please pray this year for our Christmas outreach in Los Angeles and in our other branches throughout the world.
(Stan and his wife Holly have recently moved from L.A. to head up our South Florida branch.)