Last Christmas I read an article from a religious thinker I admire. She attempted to make the case that we should avoid the exuberant celebration of Christmas—particularly gift-giving. Her familiar complaints? The consumerism and hustle and bustle of the holidays. As we take an axe to consumerism or greed, however, we must not unwittingly also take the axe to joy. In the next few days, you’ll likely give someone a Christmas gift that feels at least a little lavish or unnecessary. You may receive one as well. I believe this mirrors the generosity of God. Certainly, joy doesn’t require expensive gifts. But joy does provide for a gregarious and generous posture toward others.
Recently I decided to renovate the living room of our old terrace house. I painted the ceiling and replaced the ugly and dated lights. I took down the faded curtains and put up roller blinds. I spent hours on the walls—sanding off flaking paint, filling the many dents and holes, resanding, then applying multiple coats of new paint. A cement slab in the corner was removed and new tiles were laid. The fireplace also needed to be replaced. Finally, I sanded back the skirting boards and repainted them with gloss. It was hard work, but I felt proud of the changes I saw each day.
Christmas cards and nativity scenes depict the wise men visiting the Christ-child. But I think the story is bigger than the way it’s presented. The wise men’s journey is also a paradigm for our spiritual journey.
During my last year of high school, I saved up my money in order to buy extravagant gifts for my family. When Christmas came, I blew the whole $1,100 on my parents, my sister, and my grandparents. I imagined that—with college looming—I might never have the chance to be as generous with my money again.
When my twin sister and I were 5 years old, we began counting the money we had in our piggybanks. It turned out that one of us had more than the other. To our young minds, this just wasn’t right. So, we decided to balance our accounts by helping ourselves to our mother’s money!
While I was helping to organize donations of clothing for a church event, I paused to touch a cashmere sweater’s soft grey cloth. When I realized it would fit me, I considered the possibility of owning it—for free! Volunteers were allowed first dibs on the donations. Cashmere is an expensive fabric, and although I have enough sweaters, this one was calling my name. After some inner turmoil, I finally offered the item to a fellow worker, who joyfully accepted it.
When I was a kid, my mom and I would often go to the grocery store together. As she taught me how to compare prices to find the best deal, she would stroll up each aisle with a list of items in one hand and a calculator in the other. She knew how to make each coin count and how to find the best deal. Now, as my husband and I step out into the unknown as church planters, I face a palpable fear of the uncertainties—some of which are financial. No matter how tightly I hold the calculator, however, I can’t control the future.
The other day I took my son to a baseball-batting cage and paid for eight sets of 25 pitches. To our pleasant surprise, when the round finished, the balls kept coming—and coming. The machine had malfunctioned, and as a result it kept delivering an abundance of pitches. This reminded me of the time a friend’s 5-year-old daughter woke up and said, “Last night I had the best dream. I was at the beach and more toys than I could ever hope for washed up on the shore for me to have!”
Grandpa was a gentle but firm primary school principal in Pretoria, South Africa. In my final year as a student teacher, he shared a few trade secrets with me. His advice on how to get a disruptive pupil out of the classroom and into isolation was most helpful: “Look the child in the eye and say with authority, ‘Follow me,’ then turn and walk confidently out of the classroom while not looking back.” I tested his advice when dealing with an unruly adolescent and, though I doubted it would work, I soon heard him reluctantly following me.
I sat on the gift-shop bench while my family looked for souvenirs. We had just finished climbing nearly 300 steps of spiral staircase to the top of a towering memorial. As I leaned against the wall, the display nearest me caught my attention. Filled with clear packages of coins and bills, it offered a selection of replicas of dated money no longer in circulation. One particular piece—the triangular two-bit—especially intrigued me. Similar only in color to a current coin, I mused on its worthlessness in today’s market.
Last year, a few foreign exchange college students from Saudi Arabia celebrated Christmas with our family. When they arrived, they told us they had never experienced a Christmas in the US and were looking forward to it with great anticipation.
If Jesus hadn’t entered our world, two things would be true. First, those with the most _________ win. (Fill in the blank with whatever you or your culture happen to value most.) In ancient times, it was those with the most camels, wives, or gold. Today it includes those with the most cash, toys, or Facebook friends. Either way the goal is the same: Get all you can while you can.
William Arthur Ward, a writer of inspirational maxims, penned these words of wisdom to inspire people to be responsible and do the right thing: “Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: Be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.”