What the innkeeper missed

Maybe it is better that you don’t have enough money to spend this Christmas. The economy might just be what you need to make the right gift decisions this year. There is nothing like a change in the rules to cause each of us to take a look at the game. Instead of spending first and thinking about it later, this is the year most of us need to “think first.”

                There was a time when we set aside money each month to prepare for Christmas spending. That was called a Christmas Savings Account. Two decades ago we reversed the plan and spent all year paying back what we borrowed to spend the previous Christmas. But for many, the money is not there this holiday season. This Christmas, it will not be “spending as usual.”

                Many of us can quote Romans 8:28 but this is the Christmas many will have to choose to believe it.

                And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28 NLT).

                Could it really be for our own good that we are facing this Christmas with much less gift giving power? We say it, but do we believe it?

                Unexpected challenges were the mainstay of the original Christmas. Joseph didn’t expect to have to take his pregnant wife to a strange city for the birth of her child. Mary did not expect to give birth in a stable. The Magi did not expect to take such a long laborious trip. The shepherds certainly didn’t go to work that day expecting to be entertained by a choir of angels.

                That first Christmas caused many to re-think their lives and priorities. They all faced the unexpected, and they were all sent in a new direction.

The Birthday Person

                If your Christmas has become derailed, this is an opportunity to get back on track. You don’t have to take a 70-mile ride on a donkey to rethink the Christmas celebration. Start by remembering whose birthday it is. It’s a celebration of the birth of the Christ–the Messiah. It does not make sense to give gifts to other people but forget about the Birthday Person.

                The shepherds were invited to a neighborhood party at the stable, and it changed their lives. They went into their community and shared the Good News they found. We can do that. We can each decide to celebrate Christmas by having an open house for our neighbors. Send out invitations to your neighbors announcing an evening open house or dessert. Get another neighbor to help with the refreshments. Invite some of your neighbors in and spend a couple hours celebrating Christmas. We shouldn’t wait for the next hurricane to get to know our neighbors.

              The shepherds’ experience changed their community, and it just might change each of ours. Christmas is about sharing.

Giving gifts

                The Magi came to that first Christmas searching for answers. When they found The Answer, they were compelled to celebrate by opening their wallets and giving to Jesus. Notice that they didn’t celebrate by giving to each other. They knew what this special event was all about.

                There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts to our loved ones at Christmas – unless this is the focal point of our celebration. When we give to each other instead of giving to Christ, this holy day becomes a mere reduction of what it was meant to be. It once again becomes just another holiday rather than a holy day.

                The monetary gifts from the Magi helped a family who was about to become homeless. This gesture of generosity is still being talked about to this day.

                Who do you know that needs help this Christmas? Help them in the name of Christ. If you are single, move the focus from yourself and put it on someone else more in need this Christmas. If there are children in your home, help them catch the excitement of giving.

                Teach them the much needed experience that it is more awesome to give than it is to get.

                As we know that all things, even challenging economic times, can teach us that it is more blessed to give than receive, this is the year to experience this blessing. This is the year each of us can take back the celebration of the Christ Mass. But it will take effort.

              Some will remember this Christmas as a time they could not buy as many trinkets as they wanted. Others will think back on this year as their best Christmas of all time – the year they returned to the real meaning of Christmas. It will be the year they truly celebrated the giving of that incomparable gift – when God came to earth in the form of a baby and offered everything to mankind.

Watch for it

                You’ll have to work to catch it, however. The innkeeper was right in the middle of this special event yet he missed it all. For him it was business as usual. With all the people coming to town for the census, there were too many opportunities to make money. On that first Christmas, the innkeeper focused on himself and what he could get instead of what he could give. His Christmas was about getting, not about giving. Ironically, had he decided to reach out and help this poor couple having a baby, it would have ended up being the biggest boost imaginable for his business. He could have put a sign on his marquee saying, “The Messiah was here!”

              This year, don’t miss Christmas wishing you could get more. Celebrate this Christmas by being grateful for what you can give. Celebrate the real event. This year follow the lead of those who celebrated that first Christ Mass.

Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. You can learn more at SheridanHouse.org.

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