We always get excited when December rolls around, thinking about gifts, family, friends, parties and, of course, eggnog. For most of us, it is a great time of anticipation.
The fun really begins when stores start special sales, and we find ourselves standing in line for what seems like hours only to learn they have sold every last one of whatever it is we wanted to buy. Of course, shopping online is an option, as long as you remember to change your password with each gift you buy.
Then uncle so-and-so loses his job and his oldest son goes on a drinking binge, phone calls start coming and everyone is worried about the kids. No wonder Scrooge loved the phrase “Bah Humbug.”
Thank goodness Tiny Tim saves the day, and we remember what Christmas is really about, our neighbors, the lonely, the poor and those without families. We remember the real reason for the season, the essence of the lessons Christ taught, that reaching out to the “least of these” is the ultimate act of Christian faith and the most important expression of Christmas love and goodwill.
Last night, on Christmas Eve, we celebrated Jesus’ birth with friends and strangers. Leaving the church singing Silent Night we watched as everyone looked up to find the star announcing our Savior’s birth.
Tomorrow, December 26th, is Boxing Day, a secular celebration, most often celebrated in England where tradespeople collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents. December 26th is also the feast day for the early apostle Stephen, who was stoned to death for his belief in Christ and for preaching the gospel. In his final words Stephen urged God not to punish his killers, thus emulating the standard of forgiveness that Christ taught. The focus of the day is on the needy, by reaching deep into our hearts and pockets to give sincere gifts of charity and love.
The origin of Boxing Day is unclear, but one theory traces back to the Middle Ages, where both large and small churches throughout England placed metal boxes near the entrance to gather special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen. The origin of Boxing Day is not nearly as significant as what the outgrowth of this annual tradition has come to mean to millions of the world’s poorest people. Christian charity is played out in a way that reflects well on the life of the man whose birth we celebrate on December 25 and those like Stephen who have followed his example.
Thirty-two years ago I prayed for God to send someone into my life, a man of character and faith. This Boxing Day, Hilton and I will celebrate our thirty-second anniversary. We will celebrate by giving generously to our neighbors, the lonely and the poor.
Patti Austin, churchwide president for the 2014-2017 triennium, lives in Decatur, Georgia.
Photo by Matt Brown. Used with permission.