“Merry Christmas!” Says the man ringing the bell at the kettle stand. Having walked past different people at different times at the malls, I just smiled or nodded. Usually, I simply straddled past. It also got me thinking: Is there more to simply uttering a Merry Christmas wish?
It plucks my heartstrings with guilt. If I do not put any coins or bills into the kettle, am I less Christian? What if I simply say: “I am already trying to make ends meet. So why should I donate?” Such a guilt does not go away easily. Even if people decide to pop in a few coins, the stigma shifts from giving to the amount of giving.
“What if I give only coins after the guy in front just inserted a few notes?”
On and on it goes. The unbearable likeness of guilt and confusion. Is that kind of giving any virtuous? Guilt-propelled giving is a misunderstanding of what giving is really about. In fact, it is a selfish act. Selfish because one gives out of a desire to reduce one’s sense of shame. Selfish because one is more interested in pleasing people (including self) instead of pleasing God. Selfish because the giving is calculative rather than unassuming. Giving based on a Guilt-trip is not exactly the spirit of Christmas.
It’s true that Christmas is a time of giving. It is also a time for receiving. The two do not necessarily have to balance each other out. It all depends on our circumstances. For the spirit of Christmas is not about obligation. It’s about freedom to give and the freedom to receive. The song chorus by Carol Owens reflects the essence of what Christmas means.
He said freely freely
You have received
Freely freely give
Go in My name
And because you believe
Others will know that I live.
Paul reminds us:
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7
Christianity is not just a Christmas moment. It is for all times. Christmas is simply a major reminder of what it means for us to be Christians. As we sing “Joy to the World,” we need to go beyond mere songs that sound good or look pretty. We proclaim the gospel and live in a manner that reflects Christ in us. That same kind of joy that a newborn baby would trigger off an inexplicable sense of wonder and gladness. We also remember that the world is broken, with babies terminated before birth in many parts of the world; and children malnourished due to poverty and unfortunate disasters. Joy can never be found in the happiness of the world. It can only be in Christ who gives us a reason toward hope for a better future.
As we pronounce “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to people,” we are reminding ourselves to be peacemakers and to take initiatives to do good wherever we go. Even as we celebrate the occasion with family and loved ones, remember those who have lost loved ones. Remember those whose lives become more lonely as they age and their contemporaries pass away. If we know that Christmas is more than a greeting or a wish, we will pray for the needy. We will make room for Christ just as the keeper at the inn made room for Joseph and Mary in the manger. In doing so, we will make room for our relationships. We will make time for one another. We will give people space to be who they really are.
As we ponder about “What Child is This,” may we be reminded about the humility of Christ, that if we are to call ourselves as Christians, let humility be our mark of faith. As we listen to the beautiful renditions of “Silent Night,” let us give thanks and pray that God will silence the guns of war and the bombs in the battlefields. We are given that glimpse that the day will come that the worldliness, the noise, and the godless chatter will be silenced as the glory of God fills the land.
Christmas is about Christ, not us. That is why self-abandonment is an essential attribute of what it means to celebrate Christmas. Until the world recognize that Christ is Lord, there will be no joy, no peace, no goodwill, and no hope.
The true context of Christmas is about self-abandonment. Joseph abandoned self-interests for the sake of obeying God. The Magi abandoned self-preservation by obeying God even though it means offending King Herod. The coming of HOPE, PEACE, JOY and LOVE came with a price: The life of Jesus Christ. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, should we not be doing the same? Christmas is about the heart of Christ, and how we respond with our heart to Christ’s coming. When the heart’s willing: there are over 10,000 ways to obey God and to practice our faith. When the heart’s unwilling, there are over 10,000 excuses to stay in our comfort zones.
So what do we do when we come face to face with the Salvation Army person manning the kettle? Give a smile or a greeting. Prayerfully decide what is best. Let faith rather than fear guide you. Whether you give or not give, there is no compulsion. Grace means we are thankful whichever way we choose. If we give, give generously according to the level of faith. If we do not give, remember that there is always another opportunity to give. For if the heart is willing, there are more ways to give apart from the kettle on Christmas Day.
This Christmas, every Christmas, and every day, pray to God to give us 10,000 ways to give, to love, to be joyful, to be hopeful, and to be peacemakers on earth even as we wait for the Second Coming of Christ. The best gift we can ever receive is to receive Christ into our hearts. Everything else will flow from this truth.
Wishing you all More than a Merry Christmas! Amen.