“That There May Be Meat in Mine House…”
‘Tis the season for giving. Yes, Christmastime is upon us, a time when giving seems a natural outcropping of advent celebrations. Many will offer various explanations for why giftgiving is part of the Christmas tradition, but I think of those wisemen who bore gifts for the newborn King, a poor child born in Bethlehem. This is a season for giving, a season to remind us all year round.
Since my earliest remembrances of Christmastime storytelling, I have been fond of the 1843 Charles Dickens tale, “A Christmas Carol.” For me, the brilliant characterization by Dickens brought this story to life, my heart holding true empathy for each of its cast, a troupe of near real participants in a miracle born of tragedy. The protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a miserly old man, thinking of Christmas as a humbug, and Christmas giving even more-so. He sees obligatory offerings to be wasteful of time and resources, believing that one must earn a crust of bread or go hungry.
In the true miracle of the story, Scrooge gains empathy, learns the error of his thinking and ways, and becomes a true believer in Christmas giving, in giving all year long. He not only changes his bitter demeanor with his clerk Bob Cratchit, but he gives him a substantial raise, and sees to it that there is plenty of funding for Bob’s sickly child Tiny Tim to receive all the medical care he needs, and advantage to live a full life. Ebenezer Scrooge spends the rest of his life in philanthropy, seeing to it that those who are less advantaged receive mercy, and not only a crust of bread, but a whole loaf and more.
When Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol,” he was discouraged by what had become of Christmas and the plight of humanity in Victoria era London. By inspiration and lifelong experience, he crafted the novel that became an immediate bestseller. First published on December 19, 1843, all copies were sold out by Christmas Day, and a wave of generosity followed that gave new life to the giving tradition of Christmas. Charles Dickens really did affect the world around him in such a positive way that it reverberates through time even until today.
The first gifts of Christmas came with a newborn babe in a stable, a humble couple from Nazareth, angelic choirs directing shepherds to witness the Son of God, and a star to proclaim in the heavens that sweet grace and salvation had finally come. These gifts were for all the universe, and could only be given by God. The gifts that would come next would be out of goodness of heart, man’s desire to help others in need.
“Wisemen came from the east, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This would be of special value to the baby Jesus and His family.”
Wisemen came from the east, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This would be of special value to the baby Jesus and His family. Joseph would be warned in a dream that he should take his wife Mary and the young Jesus for their protection to the far away land of Egypt. Those gifts brought by wisemen would finance the journey of this humble family and their stay in a foreign land, until the death of King Herod, when they could safely return to their home in Nazareth.
Those tangible gifts brought by the wealthy, and by the guiding hand of Father in Heaven, are the first real examples of the true gift-giving that should be the tradition of our Christmas celebrations. It is good and well to offer gifts and toys to our loved ones, to see the joy on their faces as they open their presents, but it is so much more to give with the faith that what we offer will provide the loaf of bread to the hungry, perhaps even what will save the life of a stranger.
“…it is so much more to give with the faith that what we offer will provide the loaf of bread to the hungry,…”
In the final book of the Old Testament we read of the importance and blessings of paying tithes and offerings, that the Lord’s storehouse might be full, that the hungry might be fed, and that the stranger might be well cared for.
The Lord declares, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, ‘Wherein have we robbed thee?’ In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:8-12).
I had the special assignment and blessing as a bishop for five years to receive tithes and offerings from the faithful, and as a caretaker see to it that the needs of the poor, the widowed, and the fatherless were met in some measure. This was a sacred task of which I do not speak much, but I will say that I witnessed not only the rich giving generously, but often some with very little giving at the edge of their means, because they knew what it was like to be without, even as the widow with her mite. These faithful followed the Lord in His commands and promises. With humble hearts they gave, trusting the Lord to see that their gift was received by those in need. I have ever been humbled to witness this faith, this generosity of spirit and means. This is indeed the true spirit of Christmas giving, charity that prevails throughout the year.
May we overcome our naysaying minds and be governed with hearts filled with compassion and generosity, even as the character Scrooge in Dickens’ story of miracles became the kind soul who looked after the needs of his fellowman. Let us act in faith as wisemen and offer our gifts without foreknowledge or insistence of how they will be used, only with confidence that we will extend the reach of our loving Heavenly Father to His child in need. May we so give freely, as the Lord has given for us, this Christmastime and the whole year through, is my humble prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.