Monday is a special day for nearly all Americans. Seventy percent of Americans identify as Christians, but barely more than half of those attend church regularly. Even so, nearly all Americans celebrate Christmas by decorating their homes, shopping for and giving gifts, and gathering with family and friends. Christmas is a busy season for us all and even practicing Christians grapple with keeping a balance between secular and spiritual obligations. When the parties are over, the shopping and wrapping and unwrapping is done, and the guests have left, then comes that slightly depressing realization that it’s over for another year. But it needn’t and shouldn’t be over.
Once the secular frenzy subsides, we all can and should take the time to reflect on our own gifts, not the ones that came wrapped under the tree, but the ones that came from God or from providence. If we cannot find those gifts, we’re not looking very hard. It would also be an appropriate time to reflect on what we can give to others. Of course, giving means doing what we can to ease the financial distress of those less fortunate than ourselves. In a very real sense though, even if we gave generously to Toys for Tots, the fuel fund, or the local food pantry, we’ve not done enough. Those are good acts, but only by also giving of ourselves do we fulfill Christ’s bidding to love our neighbor.
The gifts that matter cannot be purchased, wrapped, or even held. They are the things we say and do for others. Every one of us has been given such gifts: a bit of advice, a kind word, a smile or a hug, or a sympathetic ear to hear our anger, fear, regret, or sadness. During the coming year, there will be opportunities to give back, perhaps by visiting an elderly shut-in, mentoring a struggling teen, coaching a team, volunteering, making a hot meal for a sick neighbor or just shoveling their walk. But there are also more frequent opportunities. Every day we can give another driver a break in traffic, let someone else have the last word, or choose not to be offended by what someone said. We’ll have occasions (rare of course) to just admit we were wrong or made a mistake or spoke thoughtlessly. We can, if we really try, refrain from flaming some fool on Facebook or passing along hurtful gossip. If we affirmatively look for opportunities to make someone else’s day a little better, we’ll find them, and we’ll sample what Christ gave us when He said: “… my peace I give you.”
Wishing everyone a joyous Christmas and a happy, reflective new year.
(Ken Frederic is a Maine native and alumnus of Brewer High School and the University of Maine at Orono. Before retirement, he worked as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense. He and his wife, Betty Ann, now live in Bristol and volunteer with several community organizations.)