Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas 2008

It’s been a tough year for many with the US economy in a tail spin and jobs being lost by the thousands. As pastor of a church that administers a food pantry, I’ve become more acutely aware of the challenges so many face in such a harsh economic climate. I’ve also become more aware of those who spend most of their time attempting to get something for nothing and will do or say most anything to get what they want. I suppose I could say more about these but they are merely incidental, if something of a pain. If we give groceries to one-hundred persons but only one among these many is that one who is genuinely in need (and does not hesitate to express such profound gratitude), then I suppose it will all have been worth it.

It is both heart-wrenching and somewhat encouraging to hear news reports about how the American Christmas shopper is being much more cautious about holiday spending and traveling; heart-wrenching in that so many of these are either about to lose their jobs or are living in fear of what may happen tomorrow at work, and encouraging in that perhaps some of these are rethinking the notion that Christmas must be expensive in order to be good. Though many of these who are being tight-fisted are likely being more practical than spiritual, it is always good that we get reason to pause so that we may reconsider the priorities of our lives. Still, it is sad to hear of so many who consider Christmas Eve or Day worship services to be obstacles to be planned around in favor of family or friendship gatherings.

I often wonder if I expect too much. I lost my secular job earlier this year and suddenly found myself caught up in the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that this economy produced. I was in the big middle of a constantly shrinking job market and wondering where my own future would take me. Thankfully, I was able to make the transition from part-time to full-time ministry, but there was a lot of financial ground lost in the interim. I find myself now being somewhat tight-fisted and questioning my reasoning: am I in spiritual protest against the consumer-driven Christmas rush, or am I also caught up in the fear of uncertainty when even I begin to question my own faith?

I recall Christmases past as a small boy with mixed emotions. I always loved Midnight Mass and the wonderment of the Christmas story, but I also remember that it was a great way to help the time pass between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And I remember all the brightly colored packages under the tree, more than any should have, and my parents almost always put a special present somewhere else. For instance, I will never forget the Christmas when I got my first shotgun. I didn’t even ask for it, and my dad had it hidden behind the couch! What a great Christmas that turned out to be, although I soon found myself a little bored with the whole thing because I could not “play” with the shotgun just any ol’ time I pleased. It was, after all, a weapon.

As I came of age and began playing Santa for my own children, the reality of those abundant Christmases we had enjoyed as children began to hit home. I never realized what a financial burden my parents had placed upon themselves to give us a “good” Christmas until I soon found myself up to my ears in debt. And for what? Worthless crap that would not last. Oh, there would always be the occasional toy or special prize that would be remembered and cherished and valued, but for the most part the presents were just additional packages to be unwrapped to somehow make Christmas more fun.

Soon enough I became more spiritually aware of how far away from the Lord we actually move during what is supposed to be the holiest day of the year when we spend all we have – and then some! - giving our children more than they could ever possibly need or even appreciate and then dropping some left-over change in the Salvation Army buckets as a mere afterthought. It began to haunt me that the financial pain I was feeling may have been more a judgment against me than merely a result of carelessness on my part.

Even now, however, I still feel a little inadequate that I cannot give to my children all that MY own heart desires. They are old enough to understand the challenges we faced this past year, so they’ve not asked for much at all. And because they seem to “get it”, I want to give them even more.

What my wife and I have managed to give our children over the years, however, is a stable home and an abiding faith. We have raised decent children who are turning into decent adults who will one day make positive contributions to church and society and will soon enough raise up children of their own. Most importantly, however, my wife and I finally wised up and gave our children the Greatest Gift any child can receive from a parent: we gave Christmas back to Christ.

Always remember that there is no such thing as a “better” Christmas than any Christmas past, for the real Christmas – the birth of Messiah – will always stand as the best Christmas of all. For this reason alone, such a holy day deserves all our hearts, minds, souls, strength, and will.

Merry Christmas,


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