It’s hardly a blip on the radar anymore. Thanksgiving — you know, that holiday we had yesterday where families once gathered to share a meal, to rest and reminisce, and to give thanks. For most it always included turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie and football games on TV, too.
Though some of that tradition still carries forward, especially the turkey and football, I think the holiday needs to be renamed. It’s not really a day to be thankful anymore, but Black Friday Eve. For a lot of folks it’s just a day off work squeezed between Halloween and the Christmas hubbub.
My family is of the old school, though, and I’m glad. On Thanksgiving, several dozen people arrive at our home at dinner time, with food in hand and smiles on faces. We have more people gathered than places to seat them, but we always make do. I generally know all of the adults who come and recall most of their names, but won’t always recognize which kid belongs to what parents. Typically there are a few new infants to pass around, all of whom are “so cute” whether they really are or not. It’s a great day.
Christmas will be here quickly, then gone just as quickly. It’s funny how much time and effort go into preparing for the Christmas get-together. Instead of “Wonderful”, the Christmas song could be named “The Most Frantic Time of the Year!” Many go crazy spending to their credit limit, burning the candle at both ends, using every spare minute to shop, decorate, wrap, and mail the annual Christmas cards.
My family used to chart the Christmas cards received on index cards so they knew who to send cards to the next year. If you send me a card this year I’ll reciprocate the following year. If you didn’t send me a card, well … you get the drift. Though that’s a practical and frugal way to manage a Christmas card list, it doesn’t feel very warm and fuzzy, does it? I’m not sure that when Jesus said “give and it shall be given unto you” (Luke 6:38) it was meant to be taken quite so literally.
In Christian circles there is a common understanding of what is known as “love languages.” Love languages are the unique ways that people use to express their love for another. Specifically these are: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and gift giving. Not only is the expression of love in our native language a selfless and caring thing to do, but it also satisfies a psychological need.
Deep within us, at the core of our being, is the need to be loved, and we intrinsically know that to receive love one must give it away first. And for many, giving love away is done in the form of gifts. So for the gift-giving linguistic of love, Christmas is wrought with opportunities. I personally have to watch myself or I’ll fall prey to overindulgence during the holidays.
My love flows with such veracity at Christmas that buying gifts can almost become compulsive. For instance, my wife Robyn and I usually agree not to buy Christmas for each other to save money, but I always break down and surprise her anyway. I can’t help it. It’s gotten to the point that she just rolls her eyes when I say “let’s not buy for ourselves this year.” She knows I’ll cave in, but that’s a good thing, I think. At least VISA thinks so.
You know, I believe this is the same issue God has. He won’t constrain His love. The Bible says (1 John 4:8): “… God is love”, and since God and His loving nature are synonymous, how could He not express it? Many religions perceive “God” as a distant, impersonal, uncaring deity that demands our ongoing penance to appease his wrath.
That’s not the God that Jesus came to show us. Our God is consistently caring, compassionate and committed to our best. He loves us unconditionally. There is nothing we can do that will prevent God from loving us. Even if our misbehavior requires divine intervention in the form of discipline, the correction provided is an expression of God’s love for us (Revelation 3:19).
Perhaps the most well-known New Testament scripture is John 3:16. Jesus was speaking with a Jewish Pharisee named Nicodemus, and He concisely conveyed what God was all about. Frankly, the whole of Christianity was divulged in their brief conversation.
The dissertation in verses 16-18 reads as follows: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
You see, God so loved that He GAVE. God’s love for you was expressed through the gift of Jesus.
As we hurry through Thanksgiving and rush headstrong into Christmas, perhaps we should pause just long enough to consider what is at the root of the season: Jesus. God took the form of a human infant, born of the Virgin Mary, to become the sacrifice required for us to be forgiven. Salvation is a gift, a present originally gift wrapped in swaddling clothes. Father God wants you to open His love gift, and enter into a redeemed relationship offered in knowing Jesus.
God gave. Will you receive the present? You see, in this case it is far better to receive than to give.
What do you think? I’m available at email@example.com. Next week Reverend June Fryman will be sharing her thoughts on the upcoming Christmas season.
Dave Hinman is Pastoral Elder at DOVE Church, Wilmington.