Christmas is bearing down with ever-increasing rapidity and immediacy, and the inevitable appeals from charities, for many, are becoming a drone. And, with the devastation of disasters such as the Asian Tsunami, the busiest hurricane season ever recorded, and an immense earthquake in Pakistan still smarting on the psyches of Christians, not to mention the ongoing AIDS crisis in Africa and the host of other social ills appearing in our times, it is apparent that there is no shortage of real needs to address. Even the most concerned believers can be totally overwhelmed at the scope of destitution that people face worldwide.
Given the context of suffering on such a grand scale, many believers simply choose to exercise their contribution to “Christmas cheer” by donating a small portion of money to help the seemingly faceless multitudes. Many other Christians are motivated this time of year to volunteer, whether in the context of serving Christmas dinner at a local homeless shelter, stocking shelves for a food bank, or ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.
Certainly, such giving and serving is important for both the giver and the eventual recipient of aid, and no doubt this giving pleases God, especially in the current age of crass materialism. However, in addition to such noble giving, Christians can use this benevolent time of year to spread cheer of another, more infinitely personal kind.
Indeed, one of the problems with charity giving and occasional relief volunteering is that there is little room for a personal exchange or connection between the giver/volunteer and their “clientele.” Despite the meaning that may be tied into ladling out a bowl of soup for another person who has no home, the fact remains that the point of contact between the volunteer and the person in need is brief and fractured. Giving money to charity is usually even less personal. As such, these modes of sharing God’s love and communicating something of the true meaning of Christmas may frustrate the believer looking for a more intense kind of ministry.
In the Christmas story, the Word becomes flesh. The great dichotomy of Incarnation occurs, whereby Almighty God becomes a man. The key to linking this great truth with Christmas giving is to realize that God did not only give the world His Son, but He gave the world His Son for an extended time (as perceived by our human minds).
Christ did not come for an evening, but for a few decades. He did not interact with humans from a distance, but rather came near and became one, intimately connecting on a daily basis with people. The Incarnation was a grand opening up of Christ’s self for people to experience, and Christians looking for a unique and meaningful ministry this season would do well to do the same.
But, how does one open up one’s self to others on such an incredibly intimate level as Christ did in His coming? Obviously, the believer looking to minister to others at Christmas will have a difficult (if not impossible) time perfectly emulating Jesus, but Christians can open themselves up in different ways, through spending time and sharing love with those around them.
Examples of such a ministry can include inviting a neighbor over for a meal, whether a nice home cooked breakfast, a tasty warm lunch, or a full-on multi-course dinner. The sharing of such a meal can do much to establish a relationship and even provide a vehicle for eventual faith-sharing. Following up the Christmas-time meal with further interactions throughout the year will solidify the believer’s relationship with their neighbor and give them more opportunities to share the love of Christ.
Other opportunities abound for the believer wanting to minister in a way that perhaps goes beyond the pre-scripted norm. One can take neighborhood children out sledding (or swimming, depending on where one lives). Perhaps striking up a relationship with a senior citizen at a retirement home or local hospice is one way to minister God’s love at Christmas time. Baking goodies for local librarians/fire fighters/neighbors is another way to go. Or offering to shovel a neighbor’s snow for the entire season.
Indeed, the ideas are endless and are tied to the context of the giver. The giver can be creative, but the basic premise for all of these ideas is the same—they all involve sharing God’s love in a way that takes time and builds a relationship beyond the initial encounter. As the believer strives to really interact with others, becoming a real and cherished part of their lives, the root of the deep ministry Christians all long to give will become established.
Such an approach to ministry during the Christmas season also demands another Christ-like element that giving to charity and volunteering might miss: sacrifice. Indeed, Christ gives up heaven and the glory of God to interact with His creation on their decidedly less magnificent terms. However, the opening up of one’s home, the spending of one’s time and resources, or the commitment to spend one’s time beyond the holiday season entails a sacrifice that will cause the giver to truly change their pattern of life and will give the giver an opportunity to reflect on their ministry.
This element of sacrifice in serving others is exactly in line not only with Incarnation, but also with the New Testament’s general mood of ministry. As a result, the giver can expect to receive rich blessing from the Lord as they sacrifice in giving. The blessing may be a smile on the face of their neighbor, an enriched understanding of the Lord’s love, or even the honor of being the entry-point for an unbeliever to begin to cultivate a faith in Christ; whatever the case may be, the giver will most assuredly come away from their encounter knowing that they have full taken the opportunity to share God’s love during the Christmas season.