If you’re like me, your inbox has been inundated with email urging you to take advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. I’ve opened a few but haven’t made any purchases. I’ve deleted almost all of them without opening. I just don’t need any of that stuff and neither does anyone in my family. This Christmas, I’m thinking of giving cash gifts to them, rather than giving them something they won’t like, don’t need and will then return. And who actually waits for Christmas gifts these days? Most people buy what they want and need throughout the year. That’s what our consumer-based economy is all about.
While it’s a good thing to give gifts and it’s also pleasant to receive them, my inclination is to stop participating in the consumer driven paradigm of a Christmas celebration and find other ways to celebrate. Some ways I plan to do this are to donate blood today; help decorate inside my church; send handmade cards to friends and family; make handmade tealight boxes for my congregation; make beautiful cards to hold the above mentioned cash gifts; bake goodies; spread smiles and cheer wherever I go; and most importantly, to be thankful every day leading up to Christmas for the priceless gift of our Savior. There are many ways to give without buying stuff.
You might think I sound a bit like Scrooge, but I think having a different perspective on something most people agree has become too commercial is a step in the right direction. Jesus gave us the greatest gift of all – himself. My gifts back to him are the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, and to others, attention, listening, time, prayers and love. Celebrating the birth of Jesus is a wonderful time to practice giving as Jesus gave – giving others what they really need – love and a bit of ourselves.
About thirty years ago, Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages, aimed at married couples who needed a little help learning to understand their mates and how to get along better. I have never read the book, but found the main idea online. The author posited the way we relate to our mates is through these five “languages”: acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. Learning our own love language and that of our spouse and then using those languages can help the relationship.
I’m not bringing this up because I want to give anyone relationship advice, well at least not the marital kind. I believe Chapman’s love languages can be carried over to all human relationships, as in the language of the Kingdom N.T. Wright talks about in his book, After You Believe, Why Christian Character Matters. Wright says that’s part of our purpose in this life – learning a new language of love to go along with the new creatures we are in Christ.
Rather than trying to figure out which one of these “love languages” we speak, we might do better to learn all of them, practicing acts of service to everyone (laying down our lives for others); giving gifts, especially of time, prayer, listening and patience; touching (everyone can use a hug or a friendly squeeze of the arm); giving the gift of quality time to others, rather than just a glance and a hasty judgment; and finally words of affirmation in the form of encouragement and building up through helpful, positive comments.
Learning a new language takes time, work and dedication, not to mention lots of practice. With enough of these, we can work to forget the coarse and sometimes grating language of this world and adopt the new one of God’s Kingdom
All living beings have a few things in common, two of which are eating and breathing. We don’t even think about the latter unless we are having trouble doing it or practicing deep breathing. Our bodies do it autonomically, allowing us to concentrate on other aspects of life.
What if prayer were as easy as breathing? Sometimes we make it more complicated and difficult than it really is. I know this from personal experience, as many others do. I used to believe the time of day, position, duration and location were all prerequisites for proper prayer. I have learned otherwise since I discovered that grace is a major factor in prayer. God is more interested in what’s in our hearts than any of those above listed “requirements.”
The good news is prayer really is as easy as breathing. Some call short prayers that can be said with one inhale or exhale breath prayers. They obviously don’t take the place of regular, more-than-a-few-minutes prayer, but they are helpful as you go through your day. They direct your heart and mind back to God and can be any type – praise, worship, lamentation, friendly chat or simply reconnecting with him during a long day.
Here are some of my favorites: your mercies are new every morning; I have been crucified with Christ; I am in you and you are in me; the Lord liveth and blessed be the Rock; I love you because you first loved me.
Any verse (or song lyric) can be made into a breath prayer. It’s as easy as inhaling – Lord, you’re my shepherd; and exhaling – I have everything I need. Easy as breathing.
At the end of almost every fairy tale and Hallmark movie, the happy ending is really just the beginning. We see how the relationship starts, but we don’t see 20 or 30 years down the road, long after the newness has worn off and the characters have been through the usual ups and downs of life. What starts out as a happy ending might not turn out so happy after all.
Accepting the sacrifice of Christ and his forgiveness is just the beginning for Christians, somewhat the same as a fairy tale ending. There’s a lot of living afterward – ups and downs, trials and suffering, but also joys and mountaintops. And as we all know, the true happy ending doesn’t happen until after death. We can’t know exactly what will happen then, but we do know Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him that today, the day of the crucifixion, he would be with Jesus in paradise. Perhaps, as N.T. Wright says, paradise is the time between death and our bodily resurrection, just as Jesus was in the grave for three days and nights, and the true happy ending will come later – another beginning, when we will experience life as it is truly meant to be.
We do know that this life really is just the beginning, the time when we learn who he is, who we are and who we are in relation to him. We are learning to speak the language of the Kingdom of God (N.T. Wright), to lean on and trust him and to surrender our lives in daily dying to self. This is our time to get a taste of what true humanity looks like and what life will be like when God makes all things new – earth, heaven and us, with new bodies just like Jesus’ resurrected body. We experience this as he lives in us and we live in him, sharing the relationship he has with the Father, in the Spirit. We long for the time our happy ending will start – and we know it will never end.
I loved reading fairy tales when I was little. When my daughter got old enough, we used to read the books and then watch the movies based on those fairy tales. I know I’m not alone. The movies have been and remain big money-makers. We just seem to have a fascination with romantic tales of rescues, good triumphing over evil and of course, the happy endings. I’ve been thinking about happy endings since I wrote that last post and I think I know why so many of us love hearing, reading and watching movies about them: God made us to have the hope of happy endings in our hearts.
That hope runs deep within us, no matter our circumstances. Hope lives inside those in the most dire and desperate situations. I often think about and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in North Korea. Their flame of hope may be small, but they cling to Jesus, knowing he has not left them alone. Their happy ending will not be in this life, but it will come, because Jesus is the happy ending for all of humanity.
We all face trials and difficulties but we can persevere and endure them, knowing Jesus is our rescuer, our knight in shining armor, our superhero and the one who has already triumphed over evil. He is our great hope and he will never let us down. No matter how long it takes, and no matter how bumpy life gets, our happy ending is secure in him.