A couple of years ago I read Noel Piper's beautiful little book titled Treasuring God in Our Traditions, in which she offers insight into the ways we celebrate holidays and other occasions throughout the year. Inspires us to pause and consider why this tradition and not that...
One practice we've adopted in our home since then (which is probably my modified version of hers) is to hang "shepherd's pouches" on the mantle during the days/weeks of Advent. In place of stockings, these simple but shimmering cloth gift bags (Target!) are used by each child to collect his or her "gifts for the King."
We first talk about our desire to give gifts of love to those we care about - on birthdays, especially. But...
How do we give to an invisible being?
Then we read Jesus' words: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
So. This is how we give to the King. We love and care for others. Tangibly and intangibly. Sacrifice. Service.
Yes. This is how.
So this way of loving at this time of the year begins with the children considering together and choosing a person or a group to which they'll donate coins and dollars earned. Maybe a local shelter that feeds & clothes bodies and souls. The adoption agency which brought our son home to us.
This year, a catalog from Samaritan's Purse arrived, and the kids have enthusiastically turned its pages (helpful in its plentiful supply of photographs which accompany giving options!), choosing individually what they'd like to give.
$35 One month of meals, lodging, healthcare & education for an orphaned child
$75 Basic necessities, shelter, counseling for a child rescued from abuse
$10 Treated mosquito net to cover a child's bed
$14 A dozen chicks to provide eggs for a hungry family
$18 Contribute toward a portable water purification unit for a community
$40 10 New Testament Bibles
...so many more...medical care, training and education, food, water...(shocking how much can be accomplished with so little - less than one restaurant meal here)
It's not about this particular organization, or this particular tradition - there are many beautiful ways to share.
But - cultivating a spirit of self-sacrifice is hard for us anyway - harder still for children during this season and in this consumeristic culture, who are marketed to constantly. We've found that even the visual reminder of the shepherd's pouch being in view, front and center, during these weeks helps us to maintain focus.
But, as I heard someone say a few days ago: In our practice of social justice, we must not forget the Source. The reason.
And so...imperfectly, we remind ourselves that the magnificent event we celebrate on December 25 began with Someone's fierce and determined desire to love a faraway people.