They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country. – Matthew 2:11-12 (The Message)
What traditions do you observe during the Christmas season? In our family, we have Christmas stockings with each family member’s name. We share a reading from the Gospel that tells the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. Throughout the years, we have worshiped in a variety of settings on Christmas Eve and every year our children would buy one gift they would give to a child in need. Our one requirement was that the gift had to be one they would want for themselves.
Our children are now adults; however, they remember the visits to the homeless shelters, hospitals, angel tree drop-off sites, visits to the nursing homes, and youth group activities.
I remember my childhood when the days leading up to Christmas were filled with church and family activities that focused on decorations and expectations.
These days often included special music, Christmas caroling, children's programs, and poinsettia plants. Our Christmas ministry would include food collection and serving meals to the community. And sermons focused on a familiar story of a baby in a manger and a God who comes to save us and brings joy to all.
Our family looked forward to receiving gifts even as we were reminded that Jesus is the reason for the season. There are reasons to examine our commitments during these days leading to Christmas. Christmas is a time of heightened emotions and memories of loss. As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, as well as the children and grandchildren in our family circles; some families are grieving the loss of a spouse or parent or child. And thousands of people are seeking refuge and shelter moving from harm’s way in places of violence and war around the world.
I am so glad to celebrate Christmas this year in Indiana, picking up the challenge to "Be Hope."
United Methodists need not fret over the future. We are capable of doing great good in small ways. "Be Hope" is not just a tagline or sound bite reflecting the afterglow of the 2016 Annual Conference. Being Hope is a way we can answer the question asked by Bishop Rueben Job in his book Three Simple Questions: Who Are We Together?
Prayer is one of the ways we are linked together, so I pray:
“Dear God make us instruments of hope and love this Christmas. Make us generous and compassionate … as British religious scholar Karen Armstrong shares in her book Charter of Compassion; compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being."
What gift shall we bring? We bring our gift of hope and our contributions of compassion. Go ahead, add some intentional kindness and some singing. After all, I was recently reminded when we sing, we pray twice, and prayer is always a good gift.
Merry Christmas and have a safe and joy filled New Year.
Bishop Julius C. Trimble