By Bill Webb
In case you haven't noticed, the Christmas season has begun. Commercially, it began more than a month ago. For Christians, the season began in earnest this past Sunday with the beginning of Advent, a day-by-day celebration that climaxes with Christmas Day. Observing Advent is a way of keeping the Christmas focus on the main thing, the birth of Jesus the Messiah.
The original bundled gift prompted many responses: angels burst forth with praise, a group of shepherds rushed to the birthing stall in curiosity, wise men brought lavish gifts and King Herod welcomed the news by announcing a genocide. The question ever since has been, "What is the appropriate response to the birth of a Savior for us?"
The list could be almost without limit. Here are a few thoughts:
Christian holidays offer an opportunity to focus on what believers agree is most important in life: our relationship with Christ. Start with a good Advent guide and set aside time to read each day's offering and meditate upon it. (this Web site is one source of daily Advent devotionals.) Follow Jesus' example and make time for Bible study and unharried prayer times.
A month of disciplined attention to the spiritual relationship benefits the person in obvious ways. But the benefits ripple out to others. Children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, adults and children — all need direction and discernment in keeping Christ at the forefront of Christmas. Those who celebrate Christmas well leave a lasting legacy for subsequent generations.
Do for other people
Consider the example set by the namesake of Christmas. The Scriptures document a giving life in the record of Jesus' words and actions. On occasion, He was known to provide new wine for a celebration and even food for a hungry crowd. As far as we know, he never purchased fashionable clothing or jewelry — not even for His mother. No soon-forgotten knick-knacks. The Savior lifted giving to a new level.
Jesus was God's gift in His birth, life, death, resurrection and eternal reign. He is the source of eternal life for believers. What a gift!
During His short earthly ministry, Jesus had a reputation for the best gifts. He wasted no words, no effort, no material possessions and no time. Today, we read and seek to follow His words. We recognize His gifts of caring, comforting, healing and touching. Jesus lifted up people who had been knocked down. He restored those who had been cast out. He noticed people who were invisible to others. His gifts were life-changing.
Jesus confirmed what we all know: Giving yourself is the best of all gifts. Such gifts can take many forms. Giving a pint of blood costs nothing, but it can be a gift of health, even life itself. Mentoring a child is a gift that requires the commodity of time, but the investment can be life-changing. Tackling a chore for someone who can no longer do for themselves costs the giver nothing except effort. Many elderly people welcome a helping hand. Mission support is a critical act of self-giving.
He included me — and you
One of the gifts Jesus championed was the gift of inclusion. We used to sing a hymn that described why He came in the first place, "He Included Me." Christians and churches that seek out the "unincludeds" do so intentionally, like Jesus did. "Include" is an active verb that communicates value, worth, care, love, belonging and more. Practiced at the Jesus-level, it discovers people that go unnoticed by many Christians and many churches.
It is tragic that a holiday intended to bring "joy to the world" fails to keep many people from falling deeper into despair and depression. That failure certainly doesn't fall at the feet of Jesus, but it may well be a reflection on the people of God. Perhaps we are tempted to be like the busy Bethlehem innkeeper — too busy caring for those on inside to notice vulnerable outsiders.
May our Christmas message to others be, "He Included You, Too!"