Throughout December, my parents loved to do traditional activities to prepare for Christmas: bake and decorate shaped cookies (to give to the neighbors), hold a Christmas-theme recital for Mom’s piano students, and decorate the house differently each year. We always cooked the entire Christmas feast from scratch. One year, we thought we’d do the “Little House on the Prairie” sort of décor. We strung popcorn to lay garlands on the Christmas tree, and baked gingerbread men and other frosted cookies, pierced their heads, and threaded yarn through them to make dangling ornaments. (Tragically, many cookies broke when pierced, and we were forced to eat our mistakes.) We finally had enough cookies and popcorn to decorate our tree, and we went to bed.
The next morning, I went to the living room to admire our — hey! What happened to all the cookies and popcorn? Gypsy, the 25-pound miniature poodle, lay behind the tree, looking guilty as sin, with probably two pounds of Christmas treats in her tummy. She’d stood on her hind legs and walked around the tree, eating everything up to 36 inches from the floor. The glass and paper ornaments remained pristine.
Gypsy didn’t know the Genesis story about not eating from the tree in the center of the garden, or the one about David eating the sacred bread in the tabernacle. She was smart, but she was just a dog with a sweet tooth. Stolen bread tastes sweet, but soon your mouth is full of gravel. Proverbs 20:16 MSG. Gypsy wasn’t completely at fault. Valuables are safe in a wise person’s home; fools put it all out for yard sales. Proverbs 21:20 MSG. We should have known that edible decorations would be too tempting for a dog!
Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes. Mark 4:24-25 MSG. Pet lovers understand that whatever we give our animals in treats, toys, vet bills, and other expenses, we receive back in rich measure.
This is a worrisome time in the global economy. We’re trying to plan our personal, church, and corporate budgets for the next year, wondering whether we should freeze at current levels, invest now while prices are low, cut back on essentials, or conserve every penny against the time when pennies are again worth stooping to pick up. Pay off those bills to avoid interest, or take advantage of tax deductions and depreciation? Should we look for extra income from freelance or part-time jobs?
It’s gift-giving time in almost every culture, whatever the religious (or non-religious) beliefs. Should we limit our spending? Stimulate the economy with the purchase of a giant electronic marvel or gas-guzzling vehicle for the family? Think about handicrafts or homemade goods for gift-giving? Is there anything left of you to volunteer at a soup kitchen, tie quilts at the Dorcas meeting, deliver meals to the homebound, or rock preemies at the neonatal ward?
Perhaps instead of giving Dad another thing for his shelf (and eventually the garage rafters), we should consider giving a gift in his name. You know the kind: groceries or a check to help the local food bank, or one of many animal rescue organizations. And for your brother’s teenagers, a gift to a a child sponsorship group like Compassion or World Vision, or a Haitian relief organization, or to a charity like www.Heifer.org.
Doing good deeds motivated by love, and leaving the materialism and rush behind, will give us that feeling of an old-fashioned Christmas. Christmas is about the heart, not about stuff. It’s being like God: compassionate, merciful, loving and forgiving – not doing the expected thing for advertisers and corporations.
That applies to all of us. Let’s invest our tender care, our gentle touch, our careful respect, in people. It’s the best gift we can give. Material goods pale in comparison to pleasant relationships. We’ll all be blessed beyond measure.
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6 NIV. That is exactly what Jesus did when He came to dwell with us. Surprisingly, He expressed His faith in us: His faith that we would listen to His voice and learn to be like the One Who expresses Himself through love.
If we love Him, we will keep His commands, which are to love the Lord with all we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That kind of love would blow modern Christmases out of the water! It would be a bright, guiding star in the darkness, leading seekers to the Light.
It starts with YOU.