Has the economic meltdown changed your Christmas plans? Join the crowd! Most of us are coping with less money, scaled back parties and less travel. For some, its a heart wrenching process. Christmas is usually about parties and the giving and getting of presents that when we can't it just doesn't seem like Christmas.
When Christmas dreams meet the hard reality of lost jobs and reduced earnings, it's as if the Grinch has jumped off the TV screen and into our homes.
For others, it's an opportunity to talk about the deeper meaning of Christmas and to rediscover the values of family and friends connecting over a meal and mid-winter activities.
And for an increasing number of people, it's a call to action to find a way to really honor someone's birthday who has been unbelievably generous to us all.
The "Christ" in Christmas is of course Jesus Christ. He's God's gift to us that brings not just love, joy and peace, but also forgiveness, repentance, reconciliation, healing, strength and hope… gifts that every one and every family need more than ever.
Our challenge is to find those gifts in
the midst of our current economic chaos.
For me, O. Henry's magical short story "The Gift of the Magi" gives us a clue. It deals with hard times like ours. It revolves around Christmas gifts, but the gifts are of a deeper kind; gifts that involve sacrifice and a profound Christ-like love.
You can start an "Alternative" Christmas tradition simply by reading this story aloud. (You can find it on the Internet.) Then talk about it with your loved ones and use it to jumpstart some creative thinking. Ask each other: "How might we give gifts like that?" and "Where does such love come from?"
One of my most memorable Christmas gifts came from my children. It was a "You don't even have to ask…" booklet.
Perhaps you've seen them. Each page of the booklet had a hand-lettered card that said like: "Good for one car wash… and you don't even have to ask," or "Good for one room cleaning…and you don't even have to ask."
Each card was signed by one of my children. The idea was for me to just hand them the card and without a word, they'd do it!
Another Christmas we gave my father-in-law one half of a cow from the Heifer Project (www.heifer.org). His mouth fell open and he smiled all day!
Heifer project works when you make a donation for a specific project that helps someone else in the world obtain an initial income-producing gift, like a flock of chickens or a pregnant goat. You receive a card that can be placed in a wrapped box for Christmas morning that says: "In your honor, an impoverished family in Kentucky (or Mexico) received a goat! Merry Christmas!"
Another group with a similar idea call themselves the "Advent Conspiracy." (http://www.adventconspiracy.org) Last year they invited people to focus on the need for clean water and the effect was multiplied to make a major difference.
They know that "Christmas can [still] change the world." The concept is simple: "[Worship Fully] [Spend Less] [Give More] [Love All]" It really makes you think about the "reason for the season."
When we begin to look with "alternative eyes" at our Christmas giving, all sorts of opportunities open up.
Here in the Antelope Valley there are wonderful groups of people reaching out and helping people meet the tough times of life. The Oasis Domestic Abuse Shelter, The Angel Tree at Lancaster United Methodist Church and Grace Resources are but a few of the many opportunities nearby. In them, you and your loved ones can give of yourself and find a true "alternative" Christmas.
It's really very easy and you can even do it on your own.
Step One: Choose a project and/or charity that God places on your heart and then make a donation of time, money or some of the extra "things" you don't need in your life.
Step Two: Get a Christmas Card and write down the story of your gift. Begin the story with the words: "In the spirit and love of Christ Jesus, and in your honor, I have…"
Step Three: Package the card creatively and place it under the Christmas Tree for Christmas Morning. Include some pictures of your activities if you can!
It takes some extra planning and sacrifice on your part. But isn't that what Christmas is really about? Some families work together and plan only one gift per family member. They then donate the money they would normally spend on Christmas to a project together.
Finally, take a moment of prayer before you open your Christmas gifts. A simple "Thank you, Jesus!", perhaps followed by the Lord's Prayer and/or a Christmas carol. You could even sing: "Happy Birthday!" to Jesus if you want.
It all helps to put perspective back into Christmas. It creates an "Alternative" Christmas that restores the magic and makes speical memories that your family will cherish for a long time.
Try this out. Let me know what happens!
Have a new, exciting and more meaningful Christmas!
The gift of Jesus Christ changes everything.