I live near an animal sanctuary that converts one of its barns to a live nativity scene every holiday season. Camels, sheep, cows, and chickens surround a swaddled newborn baby in a manger, while volunteer wise men, shepherds, and Jesus' parents look on lovingly. Outside, a bonfire, hot chocolate, and Christmas carols help make this yearly tradition a family favorite. Each year I walk into the barn, smell the pungent, earthy aroma, pet the livestock milling around, pay my loving respects to the baby, and think, "We are all in trouble."
How did we go from a simple scene like this to opening the mall doors at 4 A.M.? When did it become mandatory to attend a cookie exchange, volunteer in our child's classroom, and entertain our in-laws in Martha Stewart style—all in the same week? Why are we throwing dinner at the kids in the car while we cart them from one Christmas performance to the next? The valley between how Jesus came into our world and how our world now treats his birthday is an ever-growing chasm. The good news is, I know several families who have consciously decided to withdraw from the holiday shopping madness, extravagant spending, and "go, go, go" over-scheduling that notoriously shows up between November and December. I've followed their lead and enjoyed a more relaxed holiday pace. Unfortunately, many of these people, myself included, make up for their brief worldly sabbatical during the remaining 10 months. That's why, this year, I vow to celebrate Christmas all year long.
Don't get me wrong, keeping "Christ" in Christmas is a great place to start. No one can argue the value of making a list, and then cutting that list in half. I know families who forego gift-giving entirely in lieu of an enjoyable vacation, crafty couples who have committed to homemade gift-giving, and families who put everyone's name in a hat and choose one person to buy for. These folks have been excellent examples of how to better use time, talents, and treasure! But what if we took their example a few steps further and gave our time, talents, and treasure their due diligence every day? Because here's the thing: It's not hard to be a Christian between Thanksgiving and the end of December. It's not hard for me to do things in the name of Jesus when it's a calendar event. I tend to hit a snag the other 300+ days. And I don't think I'm alone.
Giving Your Time
For instance, if you loved the idea of trading in gift-giving for a family vacation, spending more time with the people you love may be tugging on your heart. That's a good thing. Nowhere in the Bible can I find a passage that reads "Thine child shall be enriched from sunrise to sunset with activities that range from piano to soccer if thee wants to enter the kingdom of Heaven." I have found, however: "Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it" (Proverbs 22:6). That's quite a responsibility—one that takes considerable time. Yes, we enjoy cheering our kids on in sports and at recitals, but we've had to be careful to keep that a peripheral part or our schedule—not the focal point to which all other activities must bow. (Yes, even soccer practice had become a false idol at one point.) Our children have been been divinely ordained into our care. It's imperative that we don't hand off that responsibility to coaches, teachers, mentors, or experts. Just as we're learning to say "no" to a well-meaning but inconsequential invitation to celebrate the holidays, let's also take care to say no to well-meaning, but ultimately inconsequential, time fillers.
Giving Your Talent
Perhaps, like me, when you've heard of homemade holidays and people sharing their talents, you automatically envision a Beth Moore or Max Lucado. Maybe you think of your own pastor, who always seems to have the right words, and inspires an entire congregation. You may even compare yourself to your Bible Study leader, someone who seems to memorize Scripture with ease and competence. Perhaps, though, you should think of a waitress.
My good friend Toni waitresses at a local breakfast spot and has worked with some of the most colorful characters you'd ever want to meet. Each shift, she tries to shine Christ's love on them. Most days they look away. But Toni doesn't. Between bussing tables and pouring coffee, she's committed to showing them there's another way to live. And although our church hasn't published any official tallies, I'm certain Toni is responsible for bringing more people to Sunday services than any of us. She uses her talent daily to make connections. She's a bridge between non-believers and salvation. Without any fanfare or training, she is God's "good and faithful servant."
We all have a talent like this. It could be crafting, talking, baking, praying, hosting, encouraging, remembering, writing, or celebrating. Just because it's not happening on a grand stage doesn't make it any less important. "God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts," 1 Peter 4:10 says. "Use them well to serve one another." Our talent may be the exact way someone will hear God's grace. We have a moral obligation to use it.
Giving Your Treasure
Finally, there's our treasure. The first thing we tend to think about when we hear "treasure" is donating money. Tithing is important; it's a biblical standard and should be adhered to. But what other treasures, like financial responsibilities, have we been negligent with? In my experience, Christians have a very bad habit of over-congratulating themselves for giving minimal financial donations in the name of gratitude. Donating one bag of outgrown, beaten up toys to the Salvation Army is not going to inspire financial stewardship in my children. Not if the other 11 months a year I treat Target and Walmart like my own personal toy stores. Yes, every little bit counts, but I do think we need to stop giving ourselves standing ovations for packing one Operation Christmas Shoebox when our own closets are overflowing with numerous pairs of shoes we don't even wear.
Sharing our treasure doesn't just mean that we spend wisely, but that we steward wisely. How many of us have a drawer, closet, or (gulp) room where we put stuff we are absolutely, positively going to use one day. I cannot, in good conscious, look into that drawer of "someday" and believe I am storing up treasures in heaven when I'm obviously storing up junk in my kitchen. This winter is the perfect time to clean out the house in the name of stewardship. I'm not talking about organizing or decluttering, but rather a heart change where everything in my home is either useful or beautiful (and ideally both). It's okay to let go of stuff, once and for all.
My present to myself this Christmas? Getting serious about what I do with my time, talent, and treasure. I dedicate this year to giving Christ my first-thing-in-the-morning energy. My best and brightest. How wonderful to create a world where every day holds Christmas morning excitement.
Helen Coronato is all about homeschooling her two boys, loving her husband, spending time with her girlfriends, and trying to become more like the person Jesus intended her to be. Check out her projects and connect at HelenCoronato.com.