Christmas shopping has officially begun! One of my favorite catalogs has arrived, and I have wept with joy over the offerings. The Samaritan's Purse Christmas Catalog is here, and what wonderful choices they have! If anyone is wondering, I want #11, located on page 9. It is a gift to the Education and Literacy Project, and it provides supplies and tutoring to teach a child to read and write. Literacy would open the world for a child, give them opportunities they will never have without it. They can improve their life and the lives of their family, maybe for generations to come. Most importantly, they can read the Bible for themselves. What a precious gift!
My family has not always shopped the donation catalogs. We grew up with mountains of presents under the tree, and my sister and I carefully divided the gifts into stacks to see who had the biggest pile. (Well, mostly I counted the haul.) Christmas was, in some ways, about what we wanted and how much we would get. Oh, and all the cakes and candies my mom and grandmother made. What wonderful sweets we would get for the holidays!
Please don't think my family was pagan. Far from it. We were very active in our local church. My grandmother saved for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering all year long. You could borrow from the stash in her purse if you asked just right, but you were definitely going to pay it back. She was totally serious about her Christmas missionary offering. I didn't realize it at the time, but my grandmother saved all year long for Jesus' Christmas gift.
Really, how crazy is it to give gifts to ourselves when it is Jesus' birthday? I'm not sure how we have justified all this gift giving, but I am no exception to the shopping frenzy. I am sure I will still buy and wrap a stack of presents this year, just like always. Somewhere along the way, however, I have begun to understand that Christmas is not at all about gifts or what I want. Christmas is about Jesus, God's gift of redemption to a perishing world.
A few years ago, my sister and I began a new tradition. We carefully looked at all the opportunities for giving and selected donations for every person on our gift list. We tried hard to match the gifts to the person so that it would be meaningful. My elderly mama was always cold. She received a "gift" of blankets for elderly people in a cold environment. My sister, with two lovely granddaughters, received a gift that provided for the rescue of two girls from sexual trafficking. I received the gift of life giving medications for a third-world county.
That first year, my son received the gift of sponsorship of a young Rawandan boy with his same birthday. We studied about Rawanda and learned about the political climate, the culture and class structure, and the geography of the country. A few months later, Ryan moved into a student apartment complex, where he had randomly assigned roommates. Much to my surprise, one of his new roommates was from Rawanda! His parents had been refugees from the Rawandan genocide. How amazing is that? Even though we may never meet our sponsored child, Gil has made Rawanda real to us, and the sponsored child even more precious.
Ryan showed livestock when he was in 4H, so the gift of a pig for a family in a third-world country wasn't surprising to him. That pig may sound unusual, but one pig will have multiple babies with every litter, providing food and income for the family.
Just thinking about all those fun choices has me really excited! I hope you are catching some of that excitement. You can change the world with your holiday shopping. There are lots of options for giving to large international ministries, but your local relief organizations can use a helping hand as well. Salvation Army, Goodwill, local food pantries, all need extra help during the winter months.
My challenge to you tonight is to work on Jesus' Christmas list first. After all, it is the most important. See how creative you can be as you touch the world, one person at a time. As you look at the needy around you, be careful to see Jesus in every face. Here's what Jesus said, "I'm telling the solemn truth; whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was Me - you did it to Me."