Points to Ponder: Simple Impact
Points to Ponder
Simplify. That's been the theme among some in our family and in our church. Agreements have been made among some of our relations that we would forego gift-giving among ourselves; just the kids get the presents. My wife and I, in buying our house and settling into a new and smaller church out here also agreed we would simplify too; no gifts to one another, not even the stockings. This was not because of a growing sense of piety. It was the double whammy of paying taxes and medical insurance premiums. (I wonder, if Jesus had decided to be born today instead of 2000 years ago, He might still have wound up in a stable.)
But this tight time in our household economy has been a blessing. What does it tell us that our nation's economy depends on how much money we spread around at Christmas?
When the angels visited the shepherds in the field watching their flocks by night, they brought exciting news - a life changing, history-making event has happened in Bethlehem, they reported. Then, they passed out sales fliers and gift cards to the mall. And so the shepherds said, "Let us go shopping and celebrate this wonderful thing they say has happened." But one of them said, "Shouldn't we first go to Bethlehem and see this wonderful thing that has come to pass...?" Another replied, "Well, you go ahead, stores are opening at 5 a.m. this morning and it's 40% off early bird special." (Of course, this altered version is not in Luke 2:13-15, but comes from one of those lost gospels.)
I have observed a sad thing in some older folks whom I have known for decades. Those who in their younger years pushed the theme of Santa and presents and visions of sugar plums dancing in kid's heads (I never experienced the sugar plum vision, having no idea what that is), some have no interest in Christmas at all now. Children are grown, a spouse has died, maybe a relocation - all of these were players in their traditional American family Christmas.
It used to be exciting to count the days till Santa came and hopefully brought the top three things on my list. I remember those early Christmases, euphoria growing through Christmas Eve. Then after packages and paper were strewn everywhere on the floor Christmas morning, it was sort of a let-down. I got more stuff - yea!! But it's just stuff, which sits in piles with other stuff from previous Christmases.
When I was a teenager, I used to hear stories from my newspaper route customers about how they got an orange and maybe a small toy, and dinner on Christmas. I thought, "Wow, bummer . . ."; but then a deeper part of me envied what they had. These older folks smiled when they recalled their poorer days and simple Christmases. It was a good time. I wonder if our kids will ever know how to have a good time without a bunch of stuff around them. For some reason, love is equated with buying our kids stuff. So even as we try to keep it simple, they are abundantly loved by others.
As we have pulled away from the material emphasis, we find the spiritual essence of Christmas begins to rise to the surface . I feel more at peace and at ease this season then I can ever recall. Our calendar is not over-booked. My wife is creative and has made some wonderful things for loved ones which cost less, yet mean so much more.
But I reflect on those folks I know who have quit Christmas. Not to criticize (and certainly one can not elaborate on all the reasons some may have), but I recall a particularly excited person who used to love this time of year because of presents and Santa and all of that. How long can a materialistic Christmas lift anyone's spirit? You've got to come down from the high someday, but then what is there for you when you land?
Stuff wears out. But Jesus Christ, who He is, what He came to do, and how He came to do it never wears out. Despite what the marketing folks say, there is no "magic of Christmas" (notice that word is somehow always connected to spending money).
There is no magic - only eternity. If you can really grasp how eternity entered into time and space, how the One who created time and was never bound by it, has made history His story, then nothing on earth can truly alter what is Truth.
There is pain and loss and sadness and crises every Christmas for someone somewhere. But Christmas is not made happy and bright by the lack of darkness. In fact, it is precisely because God condescended to come into this dark world that our personal dark time can actually help us see how bright the light really is. That is truly comfort and joy.
"For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice." (John 18:37b).
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:32).
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, of Clear Spring, MD. These articles are also found at www.HilltopChristianFellowship.com.