What does Christmas mean to you?

What does Christmas mean to you?  That’s a good question that is worthy of some time in thought these next few weeks.  We’ve just come off arguably the biggest shopping day of the year.  I admit, my wife and I did a little shopping on Friday.  No we didn’t shop at crazy hours and we didn’t cut into family time on Thanksgiving.  It was a matter of, we needed a few groceries (as a side-note, grocery stores are not that crowded the day after Thanksgiving…great day to go get some food if you need to)and while we were out, we stopped at a few places that were not very crowded.   After some more family time in the afternoon, my wife and I went to a charity Christmas auction that lasts until the wee-hours of the morning.  Didn’t buy much, but great time spent with her.  But is the shopping what epitomizes what Christmas means to me?

Christmas is about Christ!

Christmas remains for me a holiday about tradition, about family, about remembrance and about celebration of the birth of our Savior.  The shopping, the lights and colors, the commercialism is all at the bottom of priorities.  If we did nothing else than gather together on Christmas to share some simple gifts that were made or bought with love and to celebrate with some good food that would be enough.   Remembering the birth of Christ is what matters.  Without that, there would be no holiday, there would be no celebration, and honestly no hope beyond this life.

Christmas is about giving.

Christmas for me is a time for giving and being a blessing to others.  No, I don’t necessarily mean giving the best gifts, I mean giving of ourselves to those in need.  My regular readers you’ll know that I’m big on trying to be a blessing to others.  This can be as easy as a kind word or a simple service to someone else.  During the height of the “occupy” movement of protests around the country, I wrote a lengthy blog that I refer back to from time to time.  Occupy Charity at Christmas was a reflection on what it means to be a charitable and giving person (and nation for that matter).

With my goal of living a year of Thanksgiving, I’m announcing here in this post first that I’m in the planning stages of avenues for me to show my thanks to some local charities that I can in part be a blessing to my community that I live in.  Also in stretching myself spiritually and living with abandon, I am working on ways to have this blog and my other writings help me in this goal to be a blessing to others.   This is all still in the planning stages and the only reason I’m even mentioning it on here is so that my readers can lift this up in prayer that God guides me in the ways I can best serve his kingdom.  I hope over the coming weeks, I’ll be able to announce more concrete plans and thoughts here.

What does Christmas mean to you?

Ask yourself this question.  I think it is a personal question and the answer that I’ve come to above may not be the one that you arrive at.  But honestly ask yourself that question and reflect the direction that God leads you.

 

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“Occupy Charity” at Christmas (and all year)

One of my favorite modern Christmas stories occurred a few years back.  I attend a fairly large church that can average 3-5 thousand over 4 services on a weekend in a relatively affluent community.  Well as expected, Christmas eve was crowded.  At the end of the service our pastor told us a story and made a call to action. 

The church sponsored an orphanage in the Ukraine.  If I recall the details properly, the orphanage is housed in a fairly large building and was important to the many homeless children in the community.  Over the years we as a church had helped with many of their needs and had even traveled to assist them with different things.  Well this Christmas time, they had a special need.  It seems, that during that particular year they had been going through an unusually cold winter, many days already in December already with below 0 temperatures and with the heart of winter still to come. This home provided the necessary shelter and food for many of the young children in the area that without a home like this, would likely starve or freeze during these cold months.  This home literally made the difference between life and death for many.

Well as so happened the boiler went out in this building, leaving it with no heat.  This would be disastrous for the very people that depended on this life saving home.  The operators of the home contacted their partners at our church and humbly asked for assistance to get heat restored.  The repairs that would be needed would require about $10,000, money they just did not have.  Without them, they would be forced to close their doors.  They asked if there was anything we could do to help them with even a portion of the money required to do repairs.

Jump back to northeast Ohio, on that Christmas eve, where we all had cozy, warm homes to return too, looking forward to Christmas morning.  Our pastor asked that we take up a special offering, of which 100% of the funds would be delivered to this home for the necessary repairs.  We made our offering and went back to our warm homes. 

A few weeks later during our normal weekend services, our pastor made a special announcement and wanted to let us know the outcome of this special offering.  As a church family, we had raised over $50,000 for this home, which would not only cover the needed repairs, but would allow for necessary upgrades and enhancements and operating expenses that would improve the ability of the home to provide for those in need.  What an unexpected blessing this was and how truly this changed the lives of many.

Changing Lives one day at a time

Our small offering, while not a great individually great sacrifice, combined to make the difference between life and death for many.  It allowed those children in the Ukraine another day of life and provisions that they would not have had otherwise. 

Another great story I love to tell, is how more local and affects many of my neighbors and friends.  Every year at the end of the football season, we play our rivals for the Blue Cup.  Unfortunately, for too long, our team has not brought the Blue Cup home.  The last two years during the weeks leading up the game, we also are preparing for another competition, the prize of which is the Blue Ladle.  What is this?  Well both schools booster organizations hold a food drive at the schools.  Students are encouraged to bring in a few canned or boxed goods.  This year for the second year in a row, we’ve won the Blue Ladle with over five truckloads of food going to our local food cupboard!

While we love to win the Blue Ladle, the most important part of the story comes next.  To help unload the food, we enlisted a handful of football players to help (five truckloads of food is a lot for us old men!).  After we unloaded we had the operators talk with these young men about their operation and how lives are changed because of what they just did.  If you watched these young men as they listened, you could see that they got it, they realized that football is just a game, played on the field, but it really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.  What they won by playing for the Blue Ladle, was not just a large blue ladle (yes their really is one), but the knowledge that they changed someone’s life.  They helped someone have some food that may have been difficult to come by.  This is what it is all about.  Changing lives, one day at a time, making an eternal difference in their own and the recipients of their charity.

That is what charity is about, it is not about taking from one (the well-off) and giving to another (the not-so-well off), it is about giving of yourself, giving a piece of your own heart and soul and sharing that with someone else that has need.  What is beautiful about that is that is not a zero-sum game.  When you take from the one to give to another, you simply move wealth around, but when you give of yourself, out of charity to those in need, you not only help those in need by providing them something they can’t provide for themselves, but you also enrich yourself.  I’m not suggesting that by giving a dollar you’ll be returned two, but giving of yourself enriches you in so many ways that once you’ve experienced the gift of giving, you’ll want to keep on giving!  Try it, you’ll see.

Missing the Point

Unfortunately, what I see today, in our fast-paced, self-centered culture is a lack of true charity.  Oh we can say that by paying our taxes and asking the well to do to pay “their fair share” (whatever that means) we can provide a kind of charity, all that really does is move wealth from one to another.  We can “Occupy Whatever” and say that capitalism is the root of all evil and is the problem that plagues our society.  But what most forget is that they have all they need to provide charity to those that lack.  How so you may ask? 

Do you see someone who doesn’t have enough to eat?  Give them food.
Do you see someone without a home?  Offer them your couch.
Do you see someone freezing in the winter?  Give them a coat.
Do you see someone without a job and willing to work?  Give them work.
Do you see someone sad and depressed this holiday season?  Give them a kind word and help them smile.

Don’t miss the point of charity.  Not to enrich others at the expense of some, but to enrich all through the gift of giving.  This Christmas season, give to those in need, of yourself and watch the wealth and good will spread far faster than any other means.