Illustration Courtesy of Ken Haigler
Four Rules of GivingFour Rules for Giving at Christmas
Isaiah 7:14 NASB "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
Luke 4:16-21 GNB Then Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures (17) and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written, (18) "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed (19) and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people." (20) Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him, (21) as he said to them, "This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read."
The time leading up to Christmas is often a time of wonder. I’ve often wondered, like you have, just what does God looks like? If God showed up today, how would I recognize it was God? Or how about when you pray, how do you imagine God? Is it the face of stern judge or that of a loving and concerned parent? Is the God you wonder about a God who just cares about salvation and heaven or about the reality and struggles of life here and now? Does God know how stressed you are about your grades, does he care about how tough it is in your family, or how excited you are about a possible promotion?
As we begin our journey to Christmas morning, let’s cut to the heart of this and admiit Jesus was not what or who people imagined God to be. While today we acknowledge him to be God’s Son and of absolute power and authority, when he was born into the world it was a whole other story. Born a Jew in the middle east under Roman control, his family escaped genocide to Egypt, only to return to a non-descript village, growing up as the son of a carpenter. His life was spent associating with everyday folks and navigating the political and religious turmoil of his day, resisting power, corruption, consumerism and popularity. This is why Jesus could say that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus lived it out.
Along the way we substituted Santa Claus for Jesus. In more places than one. Think about our early wonderings about God. In your heart haven’t you ever heard these words echo when you pray: “He sees you when you’re sleeping...He knows if you’ve been bad or good?” If our picture of God gets distorted, our perspective becomes skewed and we no longer see Jesus for who he is but for what we can get from him. Like magic, it is an illusion, and illusions are mere entertainment.
Let’s look again at the words Jesus read in regarding the poor and the captives. Now substitute the message we started hearing in our radios, tvs and pop-up ads weeks ago: “...he has chosen me to bring free shipping on orders over $50 to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim Buy One - Get the Second for Half-off to the captives and recovery of shopping days to the blind, to set free the oppressed to decorate their homes (19) and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people with 0% interest for one full year."
The magical Christmas promised by ads is an illusion. It is certainly not Biblical. What we have been given in Jesus is a reality of a meaningful life. Mike Slaughter, pastor at one of the largest UM churches in the US brought this home when he shared a conversation with a friend who retired early from his work. This friend was jabbing Mike about still working, so Mike asked him, “What do you do with all your extra time?” His friend responded, “Oh, I play golf everyday and my wife and I collect shells on the beach.” So that is the meaning of life? Like Mike, I want to be able to say I left this world something far more important than a lower handicap and a dust collection.
Imagine this Christmas to not be magical BUT meaningful. Better yet, what if YOU were part of a meaningful miracle? You must remember though, that miracles don’t just happen - they are born, and there is pain in birthing -- this, Mary the virgin mother knew when she said yes to God.
So imagine as a family what new tradition you could give birth to help focus on Jesus’ presence rather than on the presents. One idea is the "Four Gift Rule" going around. But I don't think it ought to be for our kids alone, what if the whole family did it? Just begin the conversation today.