Thanksgiving and Christmas kind of run together for me. I know this is controversial to some, but the two holidays sort of bracket my favorite time of year (Followed by the most depressing holiday of the year—New Year’s Day. Why is a day with the word ‘new’ in its title such a downer? I’ll leave that for another time!) Many people see the Christmas Season as a time of consumerism, selfishness, and greed. But for me it’s the opposite.
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to refocus on living with gratitude. We’ve been talking in our offices recently about the reality we all want to be seen and recognized for who we really are. Both men and women give of themselves day in and day out—feeding the kids, changing diapers, driving kids around, working, paying bills, etc.—doing the mundane things of life we are required to do maintain and grow our families physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The truth is, few of us are very good at seeing one another and truly offering appreciation and gratitude for the many things, small and big, we do for one another every day.
I tend to see and comment on the one missing link in an email rather than the amazing photos and graphics our team churns out day after day. I’m prone to question Lisa why we ran out of paper towels instead of appreciating and thanking her for the healthy and delicious dinners she prepares our family night after night.
One busy day of family activity doesn’t make up for an overall lack of gratitude. But, it’s a chance for a reset if we’re willing. It’s a reminder, built right into the annual calendar, to live with gratitude in our hearts toward one another and to God for the love, support and life we receive each day.
The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with Christmas parties at our kids’ schools, work, and church. It’s a time to celebrate. My only issue is how we neglect the importance of celebration other times of year. I’ve seen over the years how Christmas parties in the Christian community often solicits cynical remarks about materialism or unproductive busyness. Other times the word ‘celebration’ gets baptized and becomes synonymous with another church event on the calendar—usually an event with Christian music, red and green sweaters and mood lighting in the church sanctuary.
But we are designed to celebrate and enjoy life, one another, and all God provides. We seem to miss the numerous holidays in the Hebrew Scriptures (I can tell you my friends in Israel still celebrate these holidays today and there are a lot of them!) where God’s people are instructed to stop their work, feast, remember, and have fun. Why would we ever want to work toward less of this in our lives? This time of year is full of moments where we gather with people we know well. These events are often a chance to make new friends. We eat, laugh and share stories with those we love. Life is hard. I spend so much time and energy fretting over bills, budgets, David’s health, Matthias’ progress, what people think of me, how good I am at my job, whether I do anything that matters, and many other things. But during these week of December, I have moments where I let that all go and enjoy being present and having fun with important people in my life. I remember I have so much to celebrate—most of all the relationships with amazing people I am often too busy to truly enjoy.
Christmas comes around and it can be dominated by materialism and consumerism. On the one hand, some spend past their means and try to fill voids with things for themselves, their kids, or others with a display of money. On the other hand, some are dominated by materialism by withholding and refusing to give or receive gifts—usually to be more ‘spiritual.’ Like Oogway said in Kung Fu Panda, “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.” Christmas can be an excuse for indulging dark aspects of our society and human life.
But the truth is Christmas is a time when God was over-abundantly generous toward humanity giving us the gift of His Son. The Creator gave His best, sending His own Son into the world, to walk in the dirt with us as a tangible, human, material expression of His fatherly love for the world. I could cite many other biblical examples of God’s generosity toward humanity (the beauty of the creation made for our delight and sustenance, social systems which enable us to dwell together in society, music which quickens the heart and stimulates the mind, relationships within which we give and receive love—just to name a few), but this one seems fitting for this time of year. If God is willing to give His best out of His resources to those He loves, it is fitting we give our best out of our resources to those we love. And it should not be lost on us, God gave to those who love Him, but also to those who don’t. And He did it without expectation. God’s generosity knows no bounds. Once again, we are challenged to generosity to those who love us and to those who don’t.
Friends, it’s time we seek a new agenda for our lives. This year—the past couple of months—have been characterized by more deadly shootings, devastating fires, and deepening polarization at the polls. We can dig in and pull deeper into our tribes, pointing fingers at those of other tribes. We can heat up the rhetoric and oppose one another’s ideologies more fiercely. Or we can take a different path. We can look to God’s example, and gently enter one another’s worlds. We can give what is dear to build bridges. As we enter this Christmas Season, my goal is to Give Love. To show gratitude. To Celebrate. And to expand my generosity. Our world needs these gifts we each hold in our hands. Will you join me?