Christmas: It’s the most generous time of the year

Generosity is a beautiful thing.

And at Christmas, generosity shines brightly in the Creston Valley. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed a front-row seat to the stunning heart of my community as gifts were given, money was donated, time was offered and energy was expended, all in the name of sharing the joy of Christmas. Through the Creston Valley Ministerial Association Christmas Hamper program, over 400 families received a joyful boost of Christmas cheer–all of it bubbling up and overflowing from the generous hearts and hands of Creston’s amazing people, churches and businesses. And that’s not all–numerous other programs also received incredible generosity this time of year, alleviating burdens and elevating joy during a season that can be very difficult for many.

Wrapping gifts and offering soup — it’s all part of the Christmas Hamper tradition!

Seeing this generosity makes me thankful to be here, to be a member of this community and a pastor in this great valley. In a corner of the world known for its abundance, its people abundantly share.

At Christmas, generosity flows. Some might say it’s just a seasonal thing, when hearts are warmer than normal, or perhaps have grown a size or two throughout the year. Perhaps there’s something in the air during this time of little light, something that makes us want to give back–we who have received so much.

Young and old, everyone gets involved in spreading Christmas joy!

But I also think generosity comes more easily during a season when we celebrate the greatest act of generosity the world has ever known: when the Father sent his Son to make the world right again, overturning darkness with the dawning of light. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”–not because he had to or was forced to or didn’t have any other choice, but because the Father, in his generous love, is a Giver, giving. Whether fully acknowledged or not, Christmas time is a celebration of the ultimate gift given, from the most generous being ever.

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” And into the world of darkness, generosity shone. And it continues to shine, year after year, day after day, season through cycling season.

An amazing army of ready volunteers fill the hampers each year.

So thank you, Creston. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for being people of abundance who share abundantly. And thank you for giving in a way that reflects the generosity of our Creator and our Giver. Christmas is a most generous time of year–may you both give generously and receive generosity in the true spirit of Christmas this year, and may we all know the ultimate gift given, on that silent night, for the peace of this world and the good of all humankind.

 

Getting ready for Christ-mass? Mary can help. Be like Mary.

When Mary first found out she was going to have a baby, she had only one question and only one response. You might have had more.

The Merode Altarpiece, Robert Campin c. 1428
The Merode Altarpiece, Robert Campin c. 1428

First, her question: while she might have been a innocent, Jewish girl, she knew how babies were made. And she hadn’t been anywhere near the production line. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” she adroitly asks. And the answer is one-of-a-kind: the Holy Spirit is going to do something in you that’s never been done before, or ever will be done again. The son who will grow inside you will be conceived by the Holy Spirit, and he will be the King we’ve been waiting for and the Saviour of the world. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mind-blowing. Impossible. Totally out of left field. Not even on her radar.

So what does she say in response? Only one thing: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”  Mary, having received the most unexpected news you could receive, yields herself in total trust to the will of God.

Did she know what this gift meant? Could she imagine the turmoil her sudden pregnancy would invoke? Was there any way that anyone would believe her baby bump story? And what will it all mean, that her son would be the Son of the Most High?

She knew none of that.

But she trusted the Father’s goodness, and knew that what God was going to do in her and through her was greater than anything she had ever imagined possible.

So she stepped up. With courage and grace, Mary offered herself freely and fully to God’s crazy plan.  “I am yours”, she declared. “Everything I have is yours–my life, my future, my will, my body. Do in me what you have determined to do–I am submitted to your will.”

Mary challenges me, immensely.  I don’t think anyone has ever received a higher calling than this girl, in whom the very Hope of the world was conceived. And yet, the Son who came in her by the Holy Spirit then, comes to us by the Holy Spirit now.  Emmanuel, meaning “God with us,” came to make his home among us and in us. Mary was the nexus of that arrival, but God’s plan was that through Mary he would be able to finally live among his people, as he had always hoped to do (John 1:14; Rev 20:3-4). Do I have even a fraction of her courage to respond?

During the season of Advent, hearts and minds are reminded again of God’s sudden coming in Jesus. And while many barely remember the core surprise of Christmas, the celebration of his coming recalls for those who do his basic plan for restoring this broken world: coming to live in us, so that he could do for us and then through us what only he could do–destroy evil and return life to the world.

The Advent questions compelling me are these: Will I, like Mary, submit myself to God’s desire to make his home in me? Will I trust his goodness, even when his plan overturns my own? Will I let God do something in me that will fundamentally change my life and the lives of those around me? Will I pray, echoing Mary’s heart, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”?

Getting ready for Christ-mass means saying yes to God’s plan. Do we know where that will lead? Not fully, maybe not even barely. But we do know, even when our lives take unexpected routes, that God’s plan will be good, because he is good. Can we trust him in that? Mary did. And I want to be like her.

I am your servant, Lord. May your word to me be fulfilled.

How to Say “No” to Stress So You Can Say “Yes” to the Rest of Christmas

Is Christmas stressful for you? I can identify.  In fact, when I sat down to think about it, ten top Christmas stresses immediately came to mind.Top10_banner

  1. Expectations. Whether it’s from our culture, our family or ourselves, trying to meet expectations can be very stressful.
  2. Finances. Enough said.
  3. Family Dynamics. For some, family is a huge part of the joy of Christmas. But for others, it can be their most painful and difficult Christmas reality.
  4. Busyness. We all say it. We all know it. Christmas is crazy busy. Whew.
  5. Grief and Loss. From death to divorce, Christmas accentuates harsh realities.
  6. Changing Traditions. Due to other factors, what was is slipping away, and we struggle to keep up or adjust.
  7. Loneliness. Kids are gone, or with mom/dad, or . . . whatever.
  8. Traveling. Okay, maybe if you’re traveling to Hawaii or Costa Rica it’s not too stressful. But many brave winter driving conditions to reach families hours away. Can you say “stressful”?
  9. Hosting and Cooking. Or maybe you aren’t driving. You’re the host and 25 people are descending on your home for a week of feasting. And you will be doing a lot of cooking, cleaning and hosting. (And if you don’t think that’s stressful, then you need to get off the couch this Christmas and get helping in the kitchen.)
  10. Work. Days off are great, but what if your job keeps demanding the same output even if you are on days off? Or maybe you are working through Christmas and are trying to still make Christmas special for your family in spite of it?

That’s my top ten. What would you add? How many are true for you? 

But does Jesus want his birthday celebration to be the most stressful part of your year? I don’t think so. Taking off of Jesus’ invitation to come to him for rest, let’s use REST as an acronym for four steps we can take to say “no” to stress and say “yes” to the REST of Christmas.

How to say “No” to Stress so you can say “Yes” to the Rest of Christmas

R – Remember What Matters. In the midst of all the craziness, take 30 minutes with a blank sheet of paper and write down what is really important about Christmas to you. Is it celebration? Family? That your kids experience generosity and service? That you invite friends to experience the story of Christmas at your church? What is it?  And then, based on what really matters, go to the next step.

E – Eliminate the Extra. That’s right. If you know what really matters, start deleting the extra stuff that isn’t central. Maybe it’s an “obligation” party or extra decorating. Maybe it’s that Christmas concert or that stressful Christmas letter. Ditch it if it doesn’t support what really matters.

S – Simplify What’s Left. But you can’t cut everything. So examine what’s left and ask: How can I make this less stressful and more simple? Ask people to potluck the Christmas meal that’s overwhelming you. Buy 10 copies of your best book of 2013 and give it to all your friends.  Send a Christmas email instead of a hard copy. Stay home this Christmas. What is it for you?

T – Take that Next Step. Which means, what’s the next step I have to take to make this happen? Start back up at the top, right now, and Remember what really matters. Then move through Eliminate and Simplify. Then do what you need to do. Call Jim to cancel that party. Talk to the family about not doing all that driving. Send out that email to Kate declining that invitation. Just do it.

I hope that helps. Christmas should be an experience of the joy of Jesus’ birth. May it be just that for you this year.

What stresses you out the most about Christmas?
What have you found most helpful for experiencing the joy of Christmas?

 

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. – Jesus, Matthew 11:28