More than a reason for the season

Published 7:12 pm Monday, December 23, 2013

Christians hold the belief that Dec. 25 is the yearly celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Yes, it’s also a season celebrated with gifts, only because as people of faith keep in their hearts that the greatest ‘present’ they have ever been given is a chance for eternal life.

Christmas is a present, not a past. It shouldn’t be just a special day on the calendar to remember, but a gift to be lived. When you decide to love those around you, then every day is Christmas. When you let go of something to give to someone who needs it more than you, then that day is Christmas. And when you realize that love, service and real concern are the best gifts, then that day is Christmas, too.

But beyond the thoughts of this writer, I once again put that question….what is the meaning of Christmas….to several members of the clergy.

Rev. Akeem Walker, pastor of First Baptist Missionary Church of Powellsville gave this reply:

“It’s the time of year, when people get excited about the lights, the eggnog, shopping, buying, all which we associate with the Christmas season,” he said.  “I pause and ponder if any of those things have much to do with the reason we celebrate this season. Cards from people we hardly hear from, gifts wrapped under a tree, stuffed stockings, and uttering the words ‘Happy Holidays’ to mere strangers in the street. While these may be great festive gestures, I don’t believe in my summation that this is what Christmas means.”

Walker went on to reflect on those who won’t necessarily be saying, ‘Ho, ho, ho’.

“Christmas for some may be a time of crisis when they begin to think about the lack of cash to participate in gift exchange,” he added. “Some ponder about the absence of loved ones who will not be present at the dinner table. While some may have turkey for dinner, some only will dream of having trimmings.

“For me, Christmas can be a season of joy; a time of family, fellowship, and fun. Sometimes we seek to find meaning in the miniscule things instead of focusing on the love of God being expressed through each other.”

Walker was asked to reflect on the exchange of gifts and other more commercial traditions of giving.

“While I don’t mean to be a scrooge, I am not anti-gift,” he emphasized with a chuckle. “I believe in sharing and exchanging nice gifts. However, the greatest gift that can be given can’t be bought at Macys, Belk, Walmart, or Nordstrom’s. This gift was given thousands of years ago, and has never gone out of style: It is the gift of Jesus.”

Walker concluded his overview with a reflection of who the Christ-child was who grew to sacrifice and save the world.

“Jesus is the love of God manifested in the flesh and reminds all of us that regardless of what we don’t have, when love is present it makes up for the deficits,” he revealed. “This Christmas, I encourage you to re-define what Christmas means by sharing love. You won’t have to max out credit cards, no high interest rates will be incurred, no layaways required, and here’s the good thing, the more you share it, the more you get back. It’s the gift that keeps on giving: the gift of love.”

Rev. Dr. Suzanne C. Cobb is minister of the Milwaukee Charge of the United Methodist Church for Northampton County where she pastors churches in Milwaukee, Severn, Woodland, and Zion. She shared her thoughts on this wonderful time of the year.

“It’s a significant time because of his birth but it connects with another high holy day: Easter,” she says. “Easter completes the cycle of what the prophets of old had foretold. Christmas is the promise of the beginning; that God would send us a savior. That this baby born that we celebrate, as his life unfolded we see God’s promise revealed.”

Dr. Cobb is also not one to criticize gift-giving at this time, but reminds people of faith to keep it in perspective.

“We have many people who celebrate this day and don’t realize that the first half of that word is ‘Christ’,” she points out. “That’s what we as people of faith seek to help; to get people to recognize that it’s the Christ-child that is so important to us.”

She told a personal story that reflected on gift-giving at this celebratory time.

“We don’t know really how many wise men there were, but we know that there were three gifts,” she said. “There was this family that made it a tradition once their children were born in the world that they receive three gifts just as Jesus did. That’s such a wonderful gift of not just recognizing Scripture, but that it’s also the love and the traditions.

“You may remember gifts like your first bicycle,” she adds. “But it’s also the sugar cookies, the fruit and nuts. Those things will be gone at some point, but the time we spend together in fellowship sharing stories is what builds God’s kingdom.

And Dr. Cobb’s final thought was to realize what’s important to us at this time.

“Being in relationships, being with family, being with friends and sharing love is really that Christmas is all about. Not about the presents that are under the tree.”

Rev. James Shearn, pastor of Jordan Grove Baptist Church in Winton, agrees that the season is about relationships.

“It’s getting together with families and sharing love, and giving gifts; even if that gift we give is nothing but love,” he said. “The true meaning of Christmas is not about the shopping and spending money that you don’t have.  The world has changed a lot but it still comes back to Jesus is the reason for the season.

“I can understand parents wanting to give their children things; that they can have more than they had when they were growing up,” he added. “Nowadays so much of the true meaning has been lost; it’s about Santa, and trees, and lights, and shopping.”

He closed with not just a hope that there would be peace on earth and goodwill toward all men, but that people would actually live it – and does so for more than just one day.

“The real meaning still goes back to sharing and loving and coming together.  Having dinner with your family and those that you can be with and for those that you can’t be together with you can call them and tell them that they are loved, that this is about sharing and caring,” he said.

May all the beautiful holiday lights, the parties, the shopping and the exhausting rush of these days not distract us from the true meaning of what Christmas really is — and can be.

Merry Christmas!