Please forgive me for what I am about to do.  There are only 95 days left until Christmas.  The only reason I am pointing this out now is to offer a suggestion for celebrating the birth of Jesus in a different manner than Madison Avenue’s version.  As we are all aware, everyone’s budget is tight due to the state of the economy.  Many are out of work or working for a lot less than they may have done in the last few years.  People are forced to make very hard decisions about what they can afford in their lives.  As Christians, we should look at our “traditional” manner of celebrating the Christmas holiday and adjust it to reflect the reality of the people around us.

I am not suggesting that family gatherings and decorated homes should be dropped.  I am pointing specifically to our tendency to go overboard with presents.  Spending more than is comfortable because “it’s Christmas” is not the lesson of the one who’s birth we celebrate.  Jesus was the gift to us, and the only other gifts mentioned in the Nativity stories were the gifts of the Magi given to Jesus.  Mary and Joseph did not give each other expensive jewelry or gizmos.  As a matter of fact, there is no mention of them doing anything for each other.

Start looking around now for special ways to share the spirit of Christmas in ways that reflect the Christian understanding that we give to honor the Christ child, not to impress the recipients of our gifts.  Some possible “gifts” that can be given to adults would be gifts in their name to a special charity.  A gift made by hand, not in the manner of a child’s gift to a parent, but a gift of time and talent spent for that person.

Family events can focus on giving as well.  Contact the local Habitat office and volunteer as a family.  Get on the schedule to volunteer at the soup kitchen or food pantry or clothing closet.  Obviously, the time immediately around the holidays are prime targets, so be willing to look around outside the holiday time and make it a special family holiday event.  Other things that could be done could be directed to the families in the Ronald McDonald House, Children’s Hospital, or a nursing home in the area.  For example, as a family bake and decorate cookies and deliver them to shut ins or elderly neighbors who have no local family.

Make a family effort of selecting from an Angel Tree and getting something that involves everyone in the choosing of the gift.  Let even the youngest children, even if they need extra guidance, be involved in the act of buying, wrapping and delivering the gift.  Connect the giving of gifts to the giving of gifts to baby Jesus.

I was listening to the last program of the radio show  “Speaking of Faith” and they were sharing some of the broadcast interviews that have really spoken to the crew and to the listeners.  The part that really grabbed my attention was an interview with a man who works with impoverished people following Hurricane Katrina.  He was talking about how we respond to people in need and what it teaches our children.  If the only response  our children see involves opening of the wallet or the checkbook, they may never see or connect with the people we are helping.

Another person was sharing a story about baking a cake for his mother, an RN, as a surprise for her when she got off work.  As he started he realized that he had no eggs for the cake mix.  He remembered his mother telling stories about how the community would share with each other, especially when times were hard.  If you needed a cup of sugar or a couple of eggs, you asked your neighbors and they provided if they could.  So he went across the street and borrowed two eggs.  His mother’s joy was diminished as he shared his tale.  Today, what used to be borrowing from a neighbor to be returned in kind has transferred into begging.  We live in our isolated shells called home, and hide from the interactions of the people around us.

How many of you know the real condition of your neighbors?  Are they healthy; are they struggling; are they in crisis?

As we approach Advent and Christmas, the community of Christ needs to reclaim a greater sense of community.  Give the gifts of community to your family and friends.  Embrace a stable born child, visit that infant in the manger and get to know the other people offering their gifts of lambs, frankincense, myrrh and gold.

Shalom,  Darrell