Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Religion

December 23, 2011

Misty Shultz: Celebrate the greatest gift of all: Jesus

This time next Christmas, I will have a sweet little girl sitting at my feet jostling tissue paper and gazing at the lights on the tree.

Wow. It is hard to believe that in less than three months, we will have our new bundle of joy.

As I ponder our Christmas plans this year, and imagine how different they will be next year, I begin to get excited about Christmas traditions.

I’m not talking about Santa and reindeer. I’m talking about creative ways we can teach our daughter the true meaning of Christmas.

One friend said her family makes a cake and has a birthday party for Jesus every year. Though this started when she was a child, her mom now invites her to bring her children so she can teach her young grandsons about Jesus’ birth.

When I was growing up, my family would always sit around the living room after lunch and one of the men would read the Christmas story from the Bible. It’s interesting. Even as children, we never tired of hearing about the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager.

Now, as an adult and a mom, I am praying about what I want to teach my children. More than anything, I want their focus to be on Christ and not on gifts or Santa or Christmas commercialism.

As my husband and I talked about this some years back, he made a very profound statement.

He said, “If we give one another gifts on our birthdays, shouldn’t we give Jesus gifts on his?”

Definitely.

The question then arises, “What type of gifts would Jesus want?”

Personally, I believe that Jesus would like for us to honor him by keeping his commandments.

When one of the scribes asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest, “Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, NKJV)

If I am to love God with all that I am, therefore loving his son for all that he is, then I am going to put him in his rightful place at Christmas. This means that I will not make gifts, decorations, parties or Christmas busyness idols that will distract me from the true meaning of Christmas.

If I stay focused on God, then I am able to love him with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.

But, second, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

If our neighbor is everyone around us (literally, everyone), then we should be focused on loving them at Christmas.

Some of the ways my husband and I have done this in the past is to participate in shoebox greetings, a program that takes Christmas gifts to children overseas. We have also adopted a child from the angel tree to help provide clothing and necessities for children whose parents are in prison.

Last year, we bought gifts from the Samaritan’s Purse catalog for our family. For our nieces and nephews, we gave baby chicks to families in third world countries who needed to raise chickens for food. For one set of parents, we gave a baby goat to a family so they could have milk. For another set of parents, we provided the means to care for a group of AIDS victims for a year.

These gifts seemed so much more relevant to God’s wishes than simply giving our family members another item they probably do not need.

This year, my heart really aches for those who are lonely during Christmas. So, I think I am going to do a little baking and take some goodies to folks who need encouragement. I hope that by paying them a visit, praying with them and attaching scriptural encouragement to their gift, they will feel the Lord’s love for them.

Next year, I look forward to beginning a Christmas tradition that we have considered for quite some time.

Rather than getting up on Christmas morning and opening gifts or making a big lunch, our whole family is going to get out of our pajamas, leave the warmth of our home and go spread the Christmas spirit with those in need. Maybe we will make lunch at a homeless shelter. Maybe we will go to a nursing home and do a little caroling. Maybe we will head to downtown Fort Worth and pass out care packages to those living on the streets.

We will see where the Lord leads as we pray and listen.

But, no matter where we end up, I believe we will be loving our neighbors as ourselves if we focus outwardly on loving God’s people instead of inwardly on what is preferable or convenient.

We are told in James “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves… Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:22 & 27, NKJV)

The bible is very clear. We should not just hear what God’s word says; we should put it into action.

Therefore, I cannot love God with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength and neglect his people. I cannot ignore the needs around me and sit tucked away in my cozy home opening gifts and sipping cider while his hurting world needs love.

This is what it looks like to keep oneself unspotted from the world: we choose to give to God’s people instead of giving into our personal comforts or luxuries.

We choose to humble ourselves as Christ, who took on the form of man, to serve a world in need.

This does not come easily. I, for one, love Christmas traditions that involves a fireplace, stockings, gifts and yummy food.

But, I wonder what God thinks of all of our traditions as so many of his people go without or perish never knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord?

My prayer for each of us this Christmas is that we will begin some Christmas traditions that would put Jesus’ birthday wish list above our own.

I pray that we will find joy in loving and serving God’s people. I pray we will instill the importance of obeying God’s commandments in our children. And, I pray that we will unselfishly live out this obedience in the way celebrate the greatest gift we have ever been given.

After all, Jesus really is the reason for the season. How shall we show the world?

Misty Shultz holds a  master’s degrees in marriage and family counseling and Christian education. She can be reached at mshultz@reflectionofgrace.org.

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