In the weeks before Christmas, we enjoyed the annual round of parties and fun and greetings from faraway friends and relatives. We went shopping for gifts, not only for each other, but for the families our congregation helps support through the local shelter program (a little girl on my list wanted a purple coat, and if a little girl on my list wants a purple coat, by golly, she gets a purple coat!). We groaned with friends over our hapless football team (again).
And then on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we did lots of church (I helped with the late service on Christmas Eve, and my husband was usher for the early Christmas morning service). Now the presents have been opened and exclaimed over; the cats have played floor hockey with crumpled balls of wrapping paper; naps have been taken and Christmas dinner enjoyed.
Similarities and variations
I imagine Christmas at your house was probably pretty much the same, with variations according to culture, customs, and climate. We had roast beef; you might have had tamales. We sang with friends at the choir party; you might have sung with family at a karaoke place. I gave a little purple puffer coat (and little purple hat and mittens); you might have given a sunhat and flip-flops.
But do you notice another similarity between all our Christmases? We give. We give what we can to help make others’ Christmases brighter.
That “what we can” is important. We can feel trapped between expectations, whether our own or others’, and the hard reality that there are limits to our time, money, and energy. We mere human beings have only so much to give–but then again, we have so much to give!
Once we learn how to give from our overflow, not from our substance, we are able to give freely. We can freely, lovingly, graciously give abundant gifts of service and presence and delight and support. And that kind of giving feels really good, doesn’t it? It really does. And why is that?
Giving is true joy
We are created in the image of God, who freely creates, lovingly redeems, and graciously sanctifies. Giving according to that divine model–within our human limits–is our true joy.
I remember when school would start back up in January, my little friends and I would get together and eagerly ask each other, “Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?” And now I ask, “Did you give everything you wanted for Christmas?”
Audrey Novak Riley is director for stewardship for Women of the ELCA.
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