Christmas has changed over the years as our nation and its people have changed. We have become a much more prosperous nation in the last 50 years or so. These days we expect to have and do things that would have been luxuries back then - things like having a 32 inch, flat screen TV (or larger), eating out several times a week, owning enough clothes to over-run a good sized closet.
Long ago most children received only a stocking with things like a new pair of socks, a couple oranges and some candy at Christmas. When I was young we often got clothes for Christmas in addition to a few toys. The clothes were as exciting as the toys because we only received new clothes a few times a year -- Christmas, birthday, and back to school. Otherwise we kept wearing what we already had. But things have changed. Most of us buy new clothes when we need them (or want them). Most children already own lots of toys and games making it hard for parents and grandparents to find their kids that special gift at Christmas. We have plenty to eat all year round so nobody today wants to receive an orange and a few hard candies for the holidays.
What are the best gifts? For some families this year the best gift will be having a son or a daughter home on leave from the military. For others a great holiday would be having a clean bill of health. Two families in our community were able to move into an apartment in recent weeks - for them, having a home makes this Christmas special.
When we read the story in Luke 2 of Jesus' birth we remember that our Savior was born in a stable. His people were among those who worked every day to put food on the table; they had no luxuries. What toys he had as a child were probably made from scraps of wood by his father. Matthew's gospel tells us that shortly after Jesus was born the family had to flee to Egypt for safety. During his early years, then, Jesus and his family were refugees. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus' birth. What gifts are appropriate for us to exchange in honor of this baby?
Each Christmas my parents give a donation to charity in my honor. That is one of my favorite gifts; it doesn't fill up my closet or demand space on a wall and I feel great that someone's needs are being met. Here at Shepherd King we've been gathering furnishings for those two families who've just gotten an apartment - sheets, dishes, pillows, towels, mattresses. This kind of contribution can be made in someone's name as a "gift." Do you know someone who lost a loved one this year - a spouse or a child or a parent? Spending time with that person over the holidays would be a great gift to them and to yourself. Our quilters here at Shepherd King sold enough quilts this year to buy a cow, a sheep, several flocks of chickens and a goat for people in developing countries through ELCA good gifts. Wow - what a fantastic gift to give in honor of Jesus' birth!
The best gifts I have this year are a home in San Antonio with my husband and close proximity to my parents and siblings in Austin; I'll be able to spend Christmas with them and my nieces and nephews this year. The favorite gift I gave this year was to go Christmas caroling with people from the congregation last night to some of our elderly members who are confined to home. The singing is our gift to them; their smiles and kind words are a gift to us.
May you also give and receive some of these 'greater gifts' this year. After all, God started this tradition of gift-giving by sending God's Son who brought us peace, joy, love, hope and life.