Mary Christmas - He Said (Eddie Jones)
Next week it’ll be over -- all the decorating and shopping and baking, done. Next week we’ll be ramping up for New Year’s parties and racing toward our own Christmas fiscal cliff as the holiday shopping bills come due. The toys will be broken, ill-fitting sweaters and pants returned, and Mom’s sweet potato casserole will have morphed into something that looks like a discarded science project.
As a nation we can no longer afford Christmas. It’s too taxing, too long (started before Halloween this year), and too expensive. What we need are budget negotiations to bring spending under control and a stress-relief plan that reflects God’s conservative principles.
Lord knows I tried to do my part this year to keep the problem from becoming larger. I refused to shop and rarely battled the crowds at the holiday parties. Actually, I did not have any choice -- I don’t own a car. Sold that a couple years ago. I did try to order a few things online, but I could never get past those “put in your credit card information here” screens. (I liked it so much better when I tossed cash onto the checkout counter and told the sales clerk, “That’s all I have, really. Can’t you give me a friend-of-the-manager discount?”)
So, my boys and wife will get me this Christmas. Merry Ho, Ho! A bag of nothing from Eddie Miser Scrooge. And yet, isn’t that how Mary and Joseph celebrated their first Christmas . . . with nothing but food and shelter, and the warmth and love of barnyard animals with their barnyard smells?
I did a little research to help put me in the Christmas spirit. Turns out sixteen percent of Americans live below the poverty level. That’s $22,811 a year or less for a family of four. But by the world’s standards, America’s poor are affluent. More than one billion people do not have access to drinking water, and almost three billion do their “business” in the bushes or an outhouse. At least most of America's poor have indoor plumbing and can get a clean drink of water.
The truth is, we've never been able to afford Christmas, and yet we cannot afford to skip it. We need the simplicity of the manger and the message of hope it brings. Paul advised his little buddy, Tiny Timothy: “If we have food and clothing, we will be happy with that.” I would add: ”If I get to spend a little time with family and friends, that’s a good enough Christmas for me.”
This Christmas, don’t stress about what you lack. Instead, praise God you are privileged to live in the wealthiest nation on earth. And if you’re feeling charitable, donate a few dollars to your local food bank or homeless shelter. Here is a link to help you get started: http://www.foodpantries.org.
Tuppence a Bag - She Said (Cindy Sproles)
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.” Mary Poppins sang about the old beggar woman who sold breadcrumbs on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. “Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” I remember wondering why the old woman was so poor, and why Mr. Banks wouldn’t let the children buy a bag of crumbs to help her out. His intent -- for the kids to learn to save their money for . . . retirement.
Retirement is supposed to be . . . comfortable. Either that or I fell for the age-old lie that retirement is filled with travel, adventure, and financial security. Thanks to slips in the economy, we seemed to have only tuppence (twopence) left.
In my first marriage, we’d begun a small nest egg, but divorce bit into the account and I had nothing. The boys and I moved into a borrowed room in the basement of my parent’s home. There, I literally saved my pennies just to buy food.
My parents would have happily given me money if I had asked. I didn’t ask. I needed to learn to be self-sufficient, even if it meant doing without. I saved my coins in a jar and watched for the sales. In those days, ninety-nine cents would buy you two yards of cotton fabric that would make a shirt and a pair of elastic waist pants for the boys. We ate a lot of spaghetti and peanut butter, but we were grateful for what we had.
Mary and Joseph had what they could carry with them. There wasn’t much room on a donkey’s back when a pregnant woman took up the majority of the space. And Joseph’s back could only haul so much. I can’t speak for the peculiar pair, but I’d guess the two were still somewhat stunned at the reality of becoming parents. And not just any parents --parents of the Messiah. I doubt possessions topped their lists. Searching Bethlehem for a place to sleep was probably the first real slap in the face to understanding what poor meant.
When they settled into a dark and dreary stable and Mary gave birth, grateful was probably an understatement. They snuggled close, held their newborn son, and gazed into the eyes of God. My guess is, in that moment they had all they needed . . . food, clothing, and happiness. My days of poverty are gone. In truth, retirement isn’t so bad. God has provided every need . . . each one as it has risen. At the end of our first year of retirement, our bank account shows we have what we began with, plus a tiny bit extra. Go figure.
This year we’ll spend a few leftover tuppence for those in need. As we do, we’l reap the joy of what we have. Food. Clothing. And happiness. Don’t let the pressures of Christmas-buying weigh you down. Be happy in what you have, for God sees every need.
If He cares for every bird, He’ll care for you.
(Photos courtesy of office.microsoft.com. and morguefile and shannontanski.)
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