What Can I Give... Give My Heart

Archives: Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway? #7

"What Can I Give . . . Give My Heart"

Guidelines for Alternative Giving

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

We know many Christmas stories about the perfect gift: the tender sacrifice for combs and watch fob of the "Gift of the Magi"; the shoemaker offering hospitality to an old man, an old woman, a poor mother and child as he waits for Christ to visit; the peasant going to honor baby Jesus, offering his intended gift to a poor child along the way; the huge satisfaction and celebration of the Cratchits with their meager Christmas dinner. And in Matthew chapter 2, there are the magi who followed the star to bring their gifts to baby Jesus. From these and other stories we understand the essence of gifts and giving. Gifts are from the heart. God is in our neighbor. Joy is not in how much we have but in how we share and celebrate.

As Christmas approaches does this knowledge become overshadowed? Do malls, catalogs, advertisments and external pressure provide the ideas and substance of our gifts and giving? Do Santa's gifts overpower God's gifts? "Since God can see everything he tells Santa who's been bad and good," said one four-year-old. What do our attitudes and gifts have in common with those stories that so touch our hearts?

What do we have to give? The magi had three gifts. Like them, we also have three gifts we can bring at Christmas: our time, our talent and our money.

Standard North American commercialism dictates a basic structure for gifts and giving: we use our time and sometimes our talent earning money. We then spend money and our time to purchase objects made by others. We give these gifts to our family and friends. We might make a donation to charity, a money gift for the poor. We honor Jesus at our various church services, and . . . that's Christmas!

What do those Christmas stories tell us about giving? Gifts are from the heart. God is in our neighbor. There is joy in sharing and celebrating. We can arrange the kinds of gifts - time, talent and money - and those we gift - Jesus, family and friends, the poor, our neighbor - in a kaleidoscope of ways. We can ask, who needs what from me? How can I give in ways that honor the birth of Jesus?

For many of us, the gift of time is a precious and costly gift indeed. With our busy lives, to give our time as a present, or use our time to make a present, can be sacrificial giving. For Christmas a salesman father gave his son one hour an evening, every day he was home. The son could choose the activity. This gift became so important to both of them that they renewed it the next Christmas.

A husband gave his musical wife a day alone with her cello while he took the children on an outing - this gift touched more than one person!

A mother divided the pages of a "Day at a Glance" calendar for the upcoming year and sent them to her daughter's friends and relatives, who wrote thoughts, memories, jokes and anecdotes and mailed them back. Mom reassembled the calendar and presented it to her daughter, who found herself looking forward to each day's message.

A son and family visited his older parents before Christmas. As their gift they brought a platter of homemade cookies and candy and spent the day repairing the roof and mulching the garden for winter.

We can offer time to celebrate family connections and history. Create a photo collage for a distant grandparent. Tape and duplicate family events, special moments, an elder's memories. Tape yourself reading a story for young relatives, or recount stories from your own childhood.

We can commit to a schedule of regular phone calls, letters, visits - whatever our mode and circumstances - as a gift for someone we care about. We can volunteer regularly for a given amount of time, either as a gift to those directly served or as a gift in honor of someone else. One woman prepares Christmas breakfast in her home for everyone she knows who is alone that Christmas.

Talent is the second area we can consider as a gift. Artistic talents can yield pictures, cards and stationery, music and song, small books or stories. A young woman created a sampler for her grandmother picturing all the grandchildren.

We can look in everyday places to draw on the "talents" we take for granted; sewing, cooking, gardening, carpentry, repair work. One friend hates to mend, another finds an evening of mending soothing. One woman prepared a gift basket with checked napkins, homemade spaghetti and sauce, and breadsticks. A woman gave a year of good wishes to her parents - 365 messages in a box from which they could choose one each day.

A gift of time combines with talent when we make gifts, by ourselves or with our children. A child can draw pictures or sort photographs for a photocopied calendar. Tiles, grout and a piece of masonite make trivets that last for years. Folded origami cranes make gifts of peace to decorate the trees of friends and neighbors.

Our third gift is money. The point of alternative giving is not primarily to stop giving or spending money but, once again, to remember that essential knowledge: Gifts are from the heart. We find God in our neighbor. Joy comes not from how much we have but from how we share and celebrate.

We can combine our money with thoughtfulness to truly give gifts from the heart. Three children pooled money to replace their mom's recently lost wedding ring, a cherished memento of their deceased father. A son gave his parents two framed pictures, drawn by an artist from photos, of the farm houses in which they each grew up. A husband gave his wife a video, copied from home movies, of her parents' 1932 wedding. One year a religious community went without Christmas gifts at all and gave the money to a sister community whose need was great.

We can honor Jesus and share with our neighbors both locally and around the world by giving money to organizations that serve various needs. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that in order to give to him we must find him in the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the naked, the imprisoned. We can share a portion of our usual Christmas spending - say 25% - as a special gift to those in need. These donations can also be given in a loved one's name as our gift to them. The Christmas after one woman underwent cataract surgery, her family donated money in her name to a program which sponsors eye surgery in Ghana. We can buy hams for a soup kitchen's Christmas meal, or blankets for a shelter, or art supplies for a homeless children's art program. One family spent their Christmas holiday together building a house for Habitat for Humanity.

Like the magi, we have three Christmas gifts: our time, talent and money. The magi traveled far and searched hard to bring their gifts to the one whose birth we celebrate. Their story has become part of our celebration. This year let's write our own story of Christmas giving.

Use this space to jot down your ideas.
















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This page last updated 22 October 2012

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