Yes, it Really Is About Giving Presents

So many Christians are real Scrooges about Christmas…expressing a great deal of rancor and nastiness because Christmas is not celebrated in the way they think it ought to be.  Well, guess what…they are wrong to do so.

“Christmas is not about a tree! or strings of lights!”

Well, actually, yes it is, partly.  The Christmas tree has several ‘roots’ in Christian tradition, one of which is how “the temptation that brought sin into the world hung on a tree (the forbidden fruit), and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross will give us ‘the right to eat of the tree of life’ once again (Revelation 2:7).”  (from Traditional Christmas Symbols – Christmas Trees.)

“Well, it’s not about presents, then!”

It most certainly is.  While the giving of gifts has obvious roots in Christian tradition, i.e., God’s gift of His Son to the world, I believe there is a much more important reason to preserve the tradition of gift giving:  Christ NEVER commanded us to celebrate His birthday; He DID, however, command us to love our neighbor.

(Who is our neighbor?  Every one else.  EVERY ONE ELSE.  Yes, them, too.)

No one quibbles about Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day.  They are important days because without such designated days, most Americans would go their entire lives without pausing to acknowledge their friends, family members, neighbors, much less strangers who have dedicated their careers, limbs, and lives to protect us and sometimes the world, from harm.  Having a designated day is a good thing.

By the same token, having a designated day to give to others is also a good thing.

It is often debated as to whether Christ actually said that “it is better to give than to receive,” so I will not use that as an argument…although it would be an easy one.  I will say that in order to follow Christ’s command to love others, one would be hard pressed to find a better or simpler way to start doing that, than by giving gifts.  Sure, there are flawed motives, resentments, financial burdens that often result but Christ never said “Love your neighbor only if their are no problems or complications involved.”  In fact, those problems and complications actually introduce additional opportunities to obey His command:  One may readily give gifts to those one appreciates…but what about those one doesn’t particularly like.  The process of giving to someone you don’t want to give to is a huge opportunity for healing.  Let’s say you resent having to buy a gift for your sister-in-law.  Were there no designated day to Do It ANYWAY, you could live out your entire life without having to face the fact that you resent a member of your own family.  As it is, your resentment raises its ugly finger once each year…presenting you with the designated day to DEAL WITH IT.  Christmas…the designated day to deal with your issues; what a gift from God!

Christmas has become crass and commericalized

Has Christmas become crass and commercialized…and we, materialistic?  You bet it has…and we have.   But that’s easy enough for each of us to step around and over-come.  Do not throw the Christ Child out with the sullied bath water.

Christmas as a gift giving occasion is a good thing…a God thing.  It forces us to think about each other…what the other person values and appreciates…and gets us in a position to love that person and express that love.   Without Christmas, such efforts would be rare, indeed.

So, Christmas:  Bah! Humbug?

No.  Baa…as in a little lamb.  The Lamb of God, that showed us that in stripping away the material obsessions, reactions, judgements, greed,..we can be pure Christ-ness on earth the way He did.  God’s gift to the world.  Take Him and give Him as a gift to others this Christmas.  Pray over your gifts before delivering them or putting them under the tree…praying that the Holy Spirit of Christ go with the gift.  Or when you hand someone your gift, point out to them that Jesus showed you how to love and that in celebration of His birth, you want to give them a gift.  Feel moved to share your joy.

The giving of gifts at Christmas is a way to obey Christ’s second commandment.  Just celebrating His birth is not.  Getting grumpy and chastising others for putting up trees, giving gifts, hanging lights, etc. is definitely NOT.

Everything about Christmas has become so hate-filled and crazy!”

Hey, it’s all good; even the long lines and traffic snarls are ‘God sends.’ Talk about teachable moments!  If you were a good Boy Scout, you would thank God for Black Friday because Main Streets and shopping malls during Christmas present abundant opportunities to do many many ‘good turns’…all in one day.

Do you need to feel better about Christmas?  Need to feel better about the world and about life?  Christmas is Here to the Rescue!  Look no further for opportunities to practice love, patience, and kindness:  Go shopping!

“Like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again”

Two years ago, in January of 2016, I dictated the following into my cell phone.  I was in the process of moving from North Carolina, where I had lost my job and was having to vacate my house, walking away from the mortgage, to South Carolina where my brother was letting me move into a vacant 60-year-old house trailer of his:

I’m driving through Travelers Rest, closely watching my gas gauge because I am just about out of gas…the orange empty-tank light is on.  I have about a dollar seventy five to my name and I’m making plans.  There’s a gas station at the Green River exit on 25 and I’m thinking of offering to clean the bathroom in exchange for two gallons of gas.  I’m recording this because I’m thinking about what it’s like to live like this…for the people who live like this every day of their lives, and can’t get out of the downward spiral.

All of my life, when I have come across people who live this way, hand to mouth, I have been skeptical; I have thought that they somehow had a choice and chose to live this way,  either because they were lazy, wasteful, and stupid or because they had an entitlement mentality…used to someone bailing them out…so used to social programs that they knew no other way to live. They didn’t seem to know how to take care of themselves.

God was I wrong. I find no satisfaction in this.  Yes, I have been wasteful and at times, stupid.  But, lately I have exhausted myself in trying to survive, wrestled with ways of working things around to make it through the month, the day, the next hour.  And I almost made it.  But now I need just a little bit of help.  And that is so hard.  I believe it takes more strength to hold my head up and survive this…and to ask for help…than it did to work my 9-to-5 government job for 22 years.

I will make it through this. I know I will. I’m having to convince my daughter that she, too, will survive this because she, too, is overdrawn and facing rent day. But I’m also having to teach her that this is a God lesson in humility. This whole scenario is destroying my pride. And that is a good thing…a God thing.  To live on the same level with the people who live on the streets or in their cars or in 60 year old house trailers with the floors falling in… it’s a good place to be.

God, forgive me for all those times when I have felt superior to people who have nothing. Forgive me for making them feel bad by looking the other way or not smiling, for not looking them in the eyes, and not offering to help.  And for all those empty-headed idiots who say people who live on the street do so because they want to…it makes me…well, it makes me mad enough to cry.

************************************

Well, I did it.  I stopped at the Green River exit and asked the attendant if I could clean the bathrooms for two gallons of gas.  He deferred to the manager.  First, she takes her calculator out to figure how much two gallons is going to cost her, asks me where I’m going (Weaverville, NC, is 61 miles from Travelers Rest), and how many miles I get to a gallon (Honda Fit, 34 mpg.).  She looks up and tells me she’s already cleaned up and they close in 10 minutes, so, “no.”    I wait.     She waits back.       So I leave, with no gas.

I drove 61 miles on an empty tank, like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again.

I’m now at my daughter’s apartment in Weaverville where it’s warm.  But, outside, it is 19 degrees and I’m thinking about the people broken down by the side of the road, or ‘sleeping’ under bridges, or in their cars, or even in shelters.  I beg God to bless them, if not in this life then in the next one.  And, please, God, if they sleep, let them know in their dreams that someone is sorry–very sorry–that someone cares for them even if there is nothing she can do to help, and that she loves them.

**************************************

That was two years ago.  My life still hovers quite close to the ground but, thanks to my brother, my home is warm and snug…even snuggier than before becasue my daughter now lives with me in this 60-year-old house trailer.  Try as I might, it remains a constant battle to stay afloat financially.  But we are fine; we are doing okay…okay enough to pay a small token forward.  I have put a small amount of money…enough to buy two gallons of gas…in a red envelope with instructions for the gas station attendant to hold onto this envelope until someone comes in, needing just a little bit of gas to get home.

God bless them.

The Christmas Condom (Reprise)

Okay, yes, that is a crude title…

…but no more harsh than what we sometimes say to friends and family over the holidays.  Therefore, I suggest that, as part of our morning ritual, we slip on an extra layer of skin, this one well lubricated with the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I’m serious.  Despite our best efforts to rid our psyches of past traumas and wounds, people…particularly those we grew up with…have an amazing ability to push well-hidden buttons.

Shirley MacLaine once said that she had life all figured out…her life and everyone else’s lives…and then she went home for Thanksgiving.

We all have our infections…some more deadly than others…and just like practicing safe sex, we all should do the right thing and keep our infections to ourselves.  Practice protected interactions.

And, just like with safe sex, it may not feel the same; it may not be as much fun; but that nasty barb or snide remark will infect and cause as much harm as syphilis.  (By the way, syphilis causes blindness; did you know that?  Nasty remarks that keep old wounds full of germs and pus will blind ‘loved ones’ to your virtues…and vice versa; did you know that, too?)

Remember, condoms protect both parties.  Before you press the doorbell, if you ask Jesus for the blessing of a Holy Spirit ‘condom’…and make sure it is on you, snug and secure…then you will be protected and protecting.

Happy Holidays

The Christmas Condom

Okay, that’s a crude title…

…but no more harsh than what we say to friends and family over the holidays.  Therefore, I suggest that, as part of our morning ritual, we slip on an extra layer of skin, this one lubricated with the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I’m serious.  Despite our best efforts to rid our psyches of past traumas and wounds, people…particularly those we grew up with…have an amazing ability to push well-hidden buttons.

Shirley MacLaine once said that she had life all figured out…her life and everyone else’s lives…and then she went home for Thanksgiving.

We all have our infections…some more deadly than others…and just like practicing safe sex, we all should do the right thing and practice safe inter-actions.

And, just like with safe sex, it may not feel the same; it may not be as much fun; but that nasty barb or snide remark will infect and cause as much harm as syphilis.  (By the way, syphilis causes blindness; did you know that?  Nasty remarks that keep old wounds full of germs and puss will blind ‘loved ones’ to your virtues…and vice versa; did you know that, too?)

Remember, condoms protect both parties.  Before you press the doorbell, if you ask Jesus for the blessing of a Holy Spirit ‘condom’…and make sure it is on you, snug and secure…then you will be protected and protecting.

Happy Holidays

 

Open Only in the Event of Outrageous Compassion

I have written previously about how Christmas really is about the gifts.  (See Bah! Humbug!?  )

I’ve had a few gifts of ideas … ideas of how to gift others…that I would like to share.  Please add ideas of your own.

Idea #1:  I am going to give $100 to strangers for gas money and here is how I am going to do it:  I am going to get 10 $10 bills, write on each bill “For you, from Jesus.”  I am going to seal each $10 in an envelope on which will be written “Open ONLY in the event of outrageous compassion.*”  Across the bottom of each envelope, I will write (* for gas or food money to someone who needs it.)  I am going to give these envelopes to strategically located gas stations, with the understanding of how and when they are to be used.  (See In Thanksgiving for Life.)

Idea #2:  I am going to go through my bookshelf and set aside all books I no longer need to keep.  I am going to write in each one, something like

I am so strongly loved by Jesus that I felt moved to give something to you.

or

The more I give to you, the more I am blessed.  I pray your Christmas is specially blessed, as well.

Then I am going to wrap each book as a Christmas gift and carry them around with me when I go out.  When I see someone who looks like they could use a Christmas present, I will either hand them one or slip one into their buggy or lay one on the counter.

I may do the same with bottles of perfume, jewelry, or anything that might bring someone else a bit of joy.

Idea #3:  I’m going to go to the water department and pay somebody’s delinquent water bill.  I would rather pay a power bill, but the local power company is so huge, there are probably too many regulations against it.  I will pay with cash.  If the recipient never realizes the bill has been paid, so much the better; looking for the appreciation is my biggest sin.

Any other ideas?

 

Bah! Humbug!?

So many Christians are real Scrooges about Christmas…expressing a great deal of rancor and nastiness because Christmas is not celebrated in the way they think it ought to be.  Well, guess what…they are wrong to do so.

First of all…and least of all…there is nothing wrong with having a dual-focused celebration; it is done all the time.  My daughter was born on Thanksgiving and we have often celebrated her birthday on that fourth Thursday when the family is together.  My beloved but departed friend Irene celebrated her birthday (December 29th) on New Year’s Eve…again when family are close together and spirits are high.

“But Christmas is not about a tree! or strings of lights!”

Well, actually, yes it is.  My second point is that during the Christmas season, many symbols are brought out and displayed because of their meaning and significance to a Christian’s life.  The Christmas tree, for example, has several ‘roots’ in Christian tradition, one of which is how “the temptation that brought sin into the world hung on a tree (the forbidden fruit), and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross will give us ‘the right to eat of the tree of life’ once again (Revelation 2:7).”  (from Traditional Christmas Symbols – Christmas Trees.)

“Well, it’s not about presents, then!”

It most certainly is.  My third point is that while the giving of gifts has obvious roots in Christian tradition, i.e., God’s gift of His Son to the world, I believe there is a much more important reason to preserve the tradition of gift giving:  Christ NEVER commanded us to celebrate His birthday; He DID, however, command us to love our neighbor.

(Who is our neighbor?  Every one else.  EVERY ONE ELSE.  But that’s another post on another web site.)

No one quibbles about Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day.  They are important days because without such designated days, most Americans would go their entire lives without pausing to acknowledge their friends, family members, neighbors, much less strangers who have dedicated their careers, limbs, and lives to protect us, if not the world, from harm.  Having a designated day is a good thing.

By the same token, having a designated day to give to others is also a good thing.

It is often debated as to whether Christ actually said that “it is better to give than to receive,” so I will not use that as an argument…although it would be an easy one.  I will say that in order to follow Christ’s command to love others, one would be hard pressed to find a better or simpler way to start doing that, than by giving gifts to those one appreciates.  Sure, there are flawed motives, resentments, financial burdens that often result but Christ never said “Love your neighbor only if their are no problems or complications involved.”

Furthermore, those problems and complications actually introduce additional opportunities to obey His command:  Let’s say you resent having to buy a gift for your sister-in-law.  Were there no Christmas tradition of giving gifts, you could live out your entire life without having to face that fact.  As it is, your resentment raises its ugly finger once each year…presenting you with the designated day to DEAL WITH IT.

Has Christmas become crass and commercialized…and we, materialistic?  You bet it has…and we have.   But that’s easy enough for each of us to avoid and over-come.  Do not throw the Christ Child out with the sullied bath water.

Christmas as a gift giving occasion is a good thing…a God thing.  It forces us to think about each other…what the other person values and appreciates…and gets us in a position to love that person and express that love.   Without Christmas, such efforts would be rare, indeed.

So, Christmas:  Bah! Humbug?

No.  Baa…as in a little lamb.  The Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world.  God’s gift to the world.  Take Him and give Him as a gift to others this Christmas.  Pray over your gifts before delivering them or putting them under the tree…praying that the Holy Spirit of Christ go with the gift.  Or when you hand someone your gift, point out to them that you are giving them a gift because you are loved by Jesus and feel moved to share your joy.

The giving of gifts at Christmas is a way to obey Christ’s second commandment.  Celebrating His birthday is not.  Getting grumpy and chastising others for putting up trees, giving gifts, hanging lights, etc. is definitely NOT.

By the way, even the long lines and traffic snarls are ‘God sends.’ Talk about teachable moments!  If you were a good Boy Scout, you would thank God for such ‘God sends’ because Main Streets and shopping malls during Christmas present abundant opportunities to do a good turn…many in one day.  Looking for opportunities to practice patience and kindness?  Go shopping!

(God, forgive us for being so focused on defending Your honor and not recognizing Your-given opportunities to love one another, particularly on the designated day.)

 

 

If you would like to find out more about the Christian origins of Christmas symbols like wreaths, mistletoe, and lights, go to the web site about Traditional Christmas Symbols.