In previous years, I may have lamented at what I experienced. But this year, it gave me a sense of hope.
When I walked into the local Dollar General store in October, I not only noticed the Halloween and Thanksgiving items proudly displayed, but I saw the inklings of Christmas paraphernalia beginning to dot the shelves. While many may protest that Christmas always seems to be starting earlier, this time it was different for me. Despite everything that has gone on in this present year, nothing is going to stop the hope, the promise, and the anticipation that Christmas brings.
Even through pandemic, civil strife, economic collapse, job loss, business closures, a contentious election, general loss and yes, even “murder hornets,” the yuletide celebration is still going to come and be “merry.” Why? Because when you drill down to the basics, Christmas is all about God and Giving. While these themes are timeless, it’s still possible to get “lost” in the season. As the frenetic pace of card sending, cookie baking, gift buying, tree/house decorating, and eggnog sipping become center stage, we can’t lose fact of the true meaning of the season. Even a horrific year cannot stop the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
That’s right. Christmas is not about getting sucked into a “consumeristic coma,” but it is focused on a little baby, mothered by a teenage virgin, born in the austerity of a cave, surrounded by animals and visited by smelly, third class citizen shepherds. This child, who is fully God and human, came to save humanity from its sins/misdeeds, and provide the world with a needed hope. Whether you believe in this Baby Jesus or not, that is what Christmas is all about.
I distinctly remember one Christmas Eve when my church was still worshiping across the street from the downtown 7-11. While standing outside lighting candles, a scuffle ensued in front of us between an individual and the police. Since I knew this person, I volunteered to take him home. I remember sitting in the front room of the house, with this man and his aging mother. As the lights twinkled on the tree, I realized then and there a very important truth about this holiday. It's about relationships, healing and care. And that’s what was brought to us when the Word was made flesh. When Christ entered the world.
God literally provided us with the gift of the Savior. That’s why giving continues to be a vital aspect of Christmas. We do it not expecting something in return, but simply provide out of love to another. It makes no difference if the present is large or small. Whether it’s physical in nature or intangible such as time or service. This act of selfless giving hopefully permeates from one heart and touches another heart.
Not long ago I witnessed an act of kindness and giving which had an impact. While at a local hotel, I saw one of the guests provide a sizable tip to one of the cleaning staff. The guest explained that they really appreciated the employee’s service and infectious smile. The worker was visibly stunned. I’m not sure how often she received gifts, but it was clear that it joyfully took the hotel associate off guard. The happiness and excitement exuded from her whole person. It obviously made a difference.
Over the last nine months, we’ve been forced to live through events that were unexpected, and maybe, inconceivable. But through resilience and hope, we’re learning to navigate our way through. As we embark on this Christmas season, let us understand that it is still a “merry” time even in the most difficult of circumstances. Merry, because no matter what is happening, God and Giving will ultimately prevail. God has given us the gift of Jesus, so earth has a reason to give thanks. And through this eternal gift, we can absolutely know that our lives have meaning and purpose, especially when we unselfishly reach out to others. As we are reminded in God’s Word, I John 4:9, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so we might live through him.”
Brad Hales is the pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church in Culpeper.