Merry Christmas

It is, as I sit and write this article, only a couple of days before Thanksgiving. The focus is on turkey, stuffing, rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy and every other good thing to overindulge upon.  Soon the tables will be set, mountains of food will be eaten, and a horde of people will present themselves  at doctors’ offices and emergency departments with gallbladders that have at last thrown in the towel and shouted “I can’t take it anymore!”  We all; consumers, shopkeepers and surgeons alike, love thanksgiving, but underneath it all there is another focus, another, more grand American extravaganza lurking under the radar.  It may be Thanksgiving on the front burner, but bubbling quietly along on the back burner, in the oven, and everywhere else in the metaphorical kitchen, it’s Christmas.

As always we will turn Christmas in America into a circus, and why shouldn’t we?  America is a secular state, or so most of us will tell you.  The fact is, however, we worship everything from money to power to sex to individualism to our local sports team, but we refuse to call those things what they really are, which is religion. So when we say that we are secular we mean that we are not a Christian or Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist, or any other recognized religion-based state.  And if that is the case (and that is a proposition open to a great deal of debate, I am aware), there is no real good reason why we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas any darned way that we please, and I will not be one to raise my voice against that proposition.

What I really do want to do in this article is address the issue of refugees in the context of Christmas. The refugee crisis is very much on the front pages and on the internet news sources in the U.S. and Western world, and I would like to view this crisis through this one Christian’s lens and within the context of the Christmas story. I will be quick to point out that these are my own observations as a Christian American and I do not in any way mean to imply that this is the only opinion that an American Christian can possibly have.  I am certain that I have Christian friends, dear friends all, who will disagree with me.  That is fine.  They may be right, or I may be right.  I love them anyway and I hope that they still love me too, but I have no control over that.  I see what I see, and I will share that with you now.

Christmas, as most of you know, began as a baby born in a stable.  There is actually more to the story to that however.  This kid named Yeshua bar Joseph, or Jesus, was born in that stable because a politician on orders from a foreign and unsympathetic power ordered everybody to return to their ancestral home base so that they could be counted and more efficiently squeezed for tax revenues.  Our President and Congress haven’t tried this yet, but do not count them out!  Joseph and his very pregnant wife Mary were therefore uprooted from their familiar home and occupation in Nazareth and forced to travel to the town of Bethlehem, far away.

Clearly there was little real connection between Joseph and Bethlehem.  There were no relatives offering to take in the weary travelers, one of them due to give birth at any minute.  Forced to go from inn to inn, Joseph could only finally secure lodging in a stable with the animals.  Some historians suggest that this stable was in a cave, and therefore at least protected from the cold wind.  Others stand by the traditional above-ground stable picture while still others locate the stable in the anteroom of a house. To me it makes no difference. Jesus’ company when He was born was Mom and Dad and oxen and donkeys and goats perhaps (have you ever smelled a goat?) and other denizens of the ancient Near East animal quarters.  Suffice it to say, it was not the Marriott.

Some time later, how much later is open to question, another cynical politician got wind of some dumb wise guys going around and spreading rumors about a new king of the Jews being born in Bethlehem.  It’s not like the existing king was a poster child for family values; he murdered his own children.  But the king was not eager for a rival to his throne and his dynasty to be gaining acceptance within his own kingdom, so he sent soldiers to slaughter every baby in Bethlehem.  Being warned of this, the little family shed its persona of economic refugees and took on the mantle of political refugees.  Fleeing ahead of the butchers, the family sought and was granted refugee status in Egypt.  The rest of the story is known to most people in America, and if you are not familiar with it, just about any church in America will fill in the gaps if you visit there between now and December 25.  There is, however, a deeper layer to this story in the holy writings revered by Christians, Jews and to some extent real Muslims, and I propose to write about those today.

In the beginning (important words for those who love the Bible) God told Abram to leave his home and become an immigrant.  Abram was obedient and eventually found himself in a land called Canaan.  While there a famine struck and Abram and his foxy wife, Sarai, became economic refugees and fled to Egypt.  Egypt, fortunately, accepted these refugees, even ones who worshipped a strange God.  Abe was far from honorable in this story however, as he knew that Pharaoh would notice his hottie wife, and so he used the old “she’s really my sister’ trick.  Bad form, Abe!  No huevos, no bueno!” Still, the kindness, or at least tolerance, of the Egyptians saved Abe from the famine, and the chosen line moved on.

Abe’s son Isaac found himself in the same fix a generation later and fled to Philistia where he used the same tired old “She’s my sister” trick.  Like father, like son.  God didn’t let the Philistine Grand Poobah fool around with Rebecca however, and the Philistines granted Isaac a place to weather the famine, even if many of the ruling class were covetous of the flocks and wells and orchards which God blessed Isaac with.  Ultimately Isaac retreated far enough away from anybody who would make a claim on what God had blessed him with, and he made a home there.

Isaac had a couple of sons, and that was a very complicated story.  The upshot is that Jacob came our on top and was the head of a large family that was pretty well settled in Canaan.  Then, a good long while later, Daddy Jacob’s favorite son Joseph got his uppity ass sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Soon after that, the old bugbear famine reared it’s head again and Jake & Co. were applying to Egypt for help to weather the storm.  Well, they would have welcomed a real storm, but let’s not get hung up on semantics.  So Jake says “Boys, we’re dying here.  Take some money, which we have but can’t eat, and go to Egypt and score some grub” or something like that.

So most of the boys go to Egypt to buy food, but Daddy’s real pet, Benjamin,  stays behind.  He was kind of a sissy anyway.  When they got to Egypt however, who do you think they found sitting on the seat as the Secretary of the Interior under Pharaoh but Joseph himself, the son whom they had sold years ago to the slave traders!  Now, Joseph’s life had pretty much sucked most of the time since he had been sold; unfairly accused, stuck in the Gray Bar Hotel, and so on, but Joe had kept his cool and eventually had begun to get some pretty good rolls of the dice.  God blessed him with position and authority in Egypt, and now he sat in front of his clueless brothers.

“So what’s up?” he asked them.  “What’re you boys doing in my neighborhood?  My guess is that you’re a bunch of spies.”  “Uh Uh!” cried Reuben,the oldest.  “Ain’t so.  We’re just hungry, and our daddy and the families are dying of hunger, and we’re here to buy a little food.”  “I doubt it” replied Joseph.  “You look like spies to me.  Might be terrorists too.  Maybe I should just drone your asses right now.”

“No, man, it ain’t so!  We’re just ordinary guys trying to buy some groceries for the fam.  Look at me; I’m so skinny that if I stand sideways and stick my tongue out I’ll look like a zipper.”  You probably didn’t know that they had zippers back then, but they did.  “Ummm, OK.  I’ll give you that one” said Joe.  “But I need some proof.  Are all of you boys present and accounted for?”  Now Joe knew that his brother Bennie from his own mother Rachel was not in the group, and he wanted to twist the knife just a little.  “No boss, said Reuben.  Daddy’s sissy little boy Ben is back home.”  OK then, that’s who I want to see.  Bring me the little punk or go home and starve.”

Joseph gave them enough food to hold the over for a while and sent them on their way.  When they got home they told Daddy Jake the story but he wasn’t ready to roll with it.  Soon, however, the food ran out again and now Jake bowed to the inevitable and sent Bennie along with the Gang of Ten to buy food.  Long story short, Joseph monkeyed with their heads for a while but ultimately obtained Pharaoh’s permission for the whole family to settle in Egypt, even though the possibility that they might have been spies for foreign powers could not be ruled out.  Unless you were Joseph, that is.

Fast forward to Israel a few hundred years later.  A guy named Elimalech and his wife and kids are economic refugees who seek refuge in Moab, the ancient enemy of Israel.  Refuge is granted, but the family’s luck sucks and soon the widowed wife Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth are returning to Bethlehem.  Fine for Naomi, but Ruth is like a Sunni Muslim in Iran, or a Shiite Muslim in Saudi Arabia, or a Tutsi in Hutuland or an Oakland Raider fan just about anywhere other than Oakland or, well, you get the picture.

The thing is, however, that the qualities of this Moabite woman are noticed by the people, who in turn elect to put up with her.  Ruth, the Moabite woman, is loyal to her mother-in-law and willing to do whatever is necessary, even if it means getting raped while gleaning in the fields, or poverty and starvation if no work or help is extended to her and her mother-in-law in this land which views her people as ancient enemies.  Ruth’s purity of heart, aided by Naomi’s understanding of the system and Boaz’s willingness not only to allow this undocumented alien work in his fields but also recognition of her humanity and value, results eventually in King David and ultimately Joseph, the human father of Jesus our Lord.

So where does this all take us in the context of the current refugee issue: one that will be with us long after Christmas of 2015? I suppose that my answer is this: The story that Christians subscribe to is one of dominant powers imposing their wills upon weaker people, and somebody being there when the crunch comes to help those people through the tough times.  The Bible, to me at least, is God modeling through defective and very fallible people (like yours truly and, in fact, like you too, reader) what He wants us to be, and the multiple examples of people being hospitable, for whatever personal reasons, to people in need up to and including God (Jesus) Himself, speak clearly to me about the attitude that we should take towards the alien and the refugee.  And that attitude, for me as a Christian, is acceptance and aid.

The people fleeing ISIS’ terror in Syria and other places come to us just as Abraham and Isaac and Joseph and Jacob and Ruth and Joseph and Mary and Jesus came to us; human, weak, hungry, devious, and perhaps none with a guarantee.  The Jew bleeding along the side of the road may have eventually stabbed the Samaritan who helped him in the back.  The Jews of Bethlehem might have consigned Ruth to a brothel, where she would have sold herself to provide for Naomi and both would have died impoverished, diseased, despised and alone.  Joseph, pissed off at his brothers, could have had them killed or let them starve in the desert.  None of that happened however and it provides a roadmap for those of us who call upon God as our Savior.

Which of those thousands of refugees are emissaries from God?  Which one will bring the world to a greater acceptance of each other and the blessings of peace which flow from such acceptance?  Which one will bring a bomb belt and an AK-47 to a concert or a Super Bowl game or a high school senior prom?  I don’t know the answer to any of those very good questions, and I do not disparage those who place security at the top of the list of things that we must strive for in this dangerous and complicated world.  The thought of a terrorist action taking my son or daughter or grandchild from me makes me nauseous.  Nevertheless, as I read the whole story of God and His interaction with His people on earth, I cannot ignore the fact that he loves us all, and the degree to which we love each other, even when there is risk, reflects the degree to which we love Him.

So this year I will pray that ISIS will either crumble into ruin or will be blown into atoms. I will pray that all of the innocents will escape the demonic claws of the twisted people who serve the worst form of evil in the world today, and I will pray that those of us who live far from the face-to-face confrontation with the very face of Satan itself will not snuggle in our consumerist comfort and say “their problem. Let them deal with it.”

God said “Let Us make man in Our image,” and I say let us be hospitable to all of those made in the image of God.  Perhaps not with the meekness of sheep but definitely with the mercy of God, let us welcome the refugees.


Reflections on Lent, Day 33

This morning our pastor preached out of the passage in the Gospel of John which describes the period immediately after the death of Jesus.  The picture is this; the time is the afternoon before Passover, a most high holy time for the Jews, and it is an offense to have dying people on crosses hanging by their nailed extremities at this time.  The Jewish leaders asked the Roman governor to order the breaking of the condemned men’s legs so that they would be unable to push themselves upward in order to draw a breath, thereby dying of asphyxiation That way their bodies could be removed from the crosses before sundown.  The two thieves were indeed still alive and their leg bones were accordingly broken with a large mallet.  When the soldiers came to Jesus however they saw that He was already dead, which surprised them.  Just to be sure about things a soldier stuck a spear into Jesus’ side and blood and water flowed out of the wound.

Many years ago when I was coming to faith in God once again after a seventeen year separation a pastor spoke with me about my reservations.  I was a very rational and scientific sort of person and not at all likely to take things on faith.  That pastor sized me up very neatly and gave me a small stack of books which he thought would help me get over the materialistic hump.  I don’t remember what most of those books were but two of them rocked my world:  “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and “The Resurrection Factor” by Josh McDowell.  The sermon this morning reminded me greatly of reading the second of those two books.

McDowell went about discussing the whole crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection story as if he was analyzing it in forensic terms.  Many explanations by unbelieving individuals of the events of that day turn on doubt that Jesus really was crucified, doubts that He really died,  doubts that He was laid in a tomb, and doubts that He left that tomb alive.  I will not cover all of McDowell’s points but will limit myself to the doubt that Jesus actually died.

The Romans were very good at killing people.  In fact, all of the various empires and regional powers of the time were pretty good at that, but the Romans had become the masters of the entire Mediterranean world by being a little bit better at it than anyone else.  It is with great confidence therefore that I regard the words of John when he writes that the Roman soldiers found Jesus already dead.

John then goes on to point out that one of the soldiers stuck a spear into Jesus just to make sure he was a goner.  Now when I was a soldier, if I would have wanted to make certain that an enemy was dead I would have shot him in the head – especially if I suspected that he was a zombie – or in the area of the heart if he was only a common, garden variety Viet Cong.  Thankfully I never had to do any such thing, but that is exactly how I would have proceeded if I had found myself forced with the necessity to do so.  But Jesus was up on a cross and one would never try to stick a spear into a man’s head anyway, considering that his heart was a good deal softer and less protected by a skull and so on, so I have no doubt that the Roman soldier put his spearhead straight into the non-beating heart of Jesus.

And what do you suppose flowed out of that wound?  Exactly what you would expect, if Jesus was in fact dead.  Blood and water ran down the body of Jesus, according to John, to drip into the dust on the Hill of the Skull.  What this said to McDowell, and what it says to me too, is that Jesus was not only dead, but had been dead for a while when the spear entered his heart.  When blood ceases to flow it begins to separate into its liquid and solid components.  The solid stuff, the red and white blood cells and platelets and so forth, settle to the bottom while the watery plasma remains on the top.  When that spear penetrated Jesus’ body and entered the heart that fluid was released to flow outside, followed by some of the solid red matter mixed with plasma.

This removes from the discussion any idea that Jesus merely fainted and was revived later, only to disappear into a far away country, take a wife, have some kids, and resume his occupation of carpentry while a new religion in His name was founded and slowly became the official religion of the entire Mediterranean world.  John’s description was too detailed and accurate for me to doubt it’s truth.  Jesus died on that cross, and over 500 people saw Him afterword alive and well before He finally ascended into heaven.

I have read many more convincing proofs that Jesus is whom He says He is, but this one came to me at a time of doubt and weakness, and will always be a favorite for me.

Reflections On Lent, Day 8

I had thoughts of beginning this reflection at six o’clock this morning.  I knew that my work day was going to be very busy and that we would be going to some friends’ house to meet with a group from my church, and that this would account for much of my time for this day.  Additionally, I have to have the rear end of my pick up truck photographed and estimated for the cost of repairs.  I was rear-ended a couple of weeks ago and want to get my truck, which I inherited from my father, back into shape.  I am in fact waiting in the lobby of the auto body shop right now while I am writing this.

And then there is the reading and organization which I must do to prepare to help lead a book study five days from now.  I really do hate putting such things off until the last minute; if I am not prepared you can always tell that I’m winging it!  My next four days are wide open, but I get more and more nervous the longer I put off starting to prepare.  And besides, Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be sunny again and I am getting anxious to plant kale and chard and broccoli and onions.  And then there’s dinner Sunday night with my daughter’s family—.

Time is getting away from me, and I have even given up Facebook as a Lenten fast.  Imagine how crunched for time I would be if I spent as much time as I usually do staring at my glowing rectangle, solving world problems with political friends and keeping up relationships with friends across town and also across the globe.  I’m beginning to believe that I have a time issue.

I love to be busy, but this may be a little bit too much.  My friends may have to get by without me tonight.  They really are friends and not connections on Facebook, so they would forgive me my absence.  And maybe the kale and other veggies could wait for another week to get busy growing in my garden in the back yard.  An evening at home, taking a nap and reading a book about God and thinking deeply about what the author is saying about God could possibly be a better way to spend my time this evening.

Well, best laid plans of mice and men.  I got home this afternoon and took a good nap, and then off we went to our home community meeting. We put together an Italian meal that was delicious and had some of the best together time that we’ve had since, well, last week.  We dug into the strange triangle that was Jesus, Pontius Pilate, and the Jewish authorities. There’s a lot of meat on those bones and we chewed on them with gusto.  My biggest take away from the episode concerns the ‘robber’ named Barabbas.  Pilate does not want to kill Jesus but he doesn’t want a riot on his hands either, so he decides to try to cut a deal.  “OK, you want to kill somebody so bad, you can either kill Barabbas or Jesus.”

Pilate was talking to the same crowd that has been howling for Jesus’ head since sunup, so this Barabbas must have been a very bad dude for Pilate to think for a moment that the Jews were going to go for this stunt. They begin to cry “Give us Barabbas”, and I think that a modern analogy would be to cry out “Give us Manson”, or “Give us Ariel Castro”, or “Give us al-Baghdadi (the murderous nutbag who currently runs the ISIS bunch)”.  It literally seems to me to have been a choice between God and the devil, and the crowd chose the devil.

I’m not going to be too hard on the Jews however.  Wouldn’t I have done the same thing?  Wouldn’t you?  When our cultural foundations are being threatened don’t we push back?  I certainly do.  I’ll assume the robe of self-righteousness on the day that I can go 24 hours together without crucifying Jesus with some sin in thought or deed.

So my Lent reflection is to slow down, do what really is important and not be a slave to what only appears to be urgent, and be watchful so that the next time I get to choose between God and Manson or Pol Pot or Mr. Boko Haram or the devil himself, I will be prepared to shout out “Give me Jesus”.

Reflections on Lent, Day 1

Today is the first day of the Lenten season, which is a very important time of the year for a great many Christians.  It is a period leading up to Good Friday, which remembers the crucifixion and burial of Jesus of Nazareth, and Easter three days hence when Jesus emerged from his stony tomb and defeated hell and death once for all.  That is pretty heady stuff; a source of joy for the Christian and a source of confusion and/or contempt for many non-Christians.  Being a Christian, I am very much aware of the significance of Good Friday and Easter.  Those days are among the most important of my calendar.

But what about Lent?  I have been a part of the evangelical Protestant branch of Christianity, and not very much was said about Lent and it’s kick-off event, Ash Wednesday, in the churches which I attended before we landed at our latest church about a decade ago.  During the time that we have spent with our current body of worshippers I have been more purposefully introduced to this tradition of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten fast, but if I was asked to explain to a curious observer just what this season is all about, I fear that I would fail miserably to do it justice.

That being the case, I intend to chronicle the next 47 days of Lent (I think it is 47 days, but I am not even particularly sure about that), hoping to share with you, dear readers, my growing understanding of Lent and how I will respond to it this season.  This will be a voyage of discovery for both you and me, as I cannot predict what I will learn as I begin this journey tonight.  Only one thing I know; I will emerge from this better informed about Lent and about if, and/or how, the Holy Spirit will work in and through me during this observance.  What I hope is that you will learn about this topic with me.  Here goes.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and I did not go to church tonight.  I wanted to go, but I got home from work later than usual after working two night shifts in a row before working the day shift today.  The upshot of that is that I am completely drained and had no energy left to drive downtown to the upstairs office of my church, which meets in an old but functioning movie theater and has its office in another building down the block.  I’m not entirely sure what the format for this evening’s observance of Ash Wednesday was going to be, but I do know that at the end of it I would have heard about our sinfulness and mortality and how Jesus was the answer to this problem, and that a cross made of wet ashes would grace my forehead when I left the building to somehow symbolize this.

That’s not much, is it?  Of course, I would be able to tell you much more about it if I had gone tonight but that doesn’t really let me off of the hook.  I can tell you all about Easter and Christmas even though those events are weeks and months away, and I can even tell you a bit about Hanukkah and the Hijra.  I can tell you about Washington’s victory over the Hessian mercenaries and Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’.  If Ash Wednesday and Lent are worth observing, why can’t I tell you anything of substance about them?  Why would such a poverty of knowledge exist?  My bad!

I will be able to tell you all about these two topics tomorrow because I will google it to find out for myself, but it would be cheating to do that tonight, I think. The sad fact is that I don’t really know enough about Ash Wednesday to explain it to a traveler from Mars, and one of the first benefits of the lent season is that I will learn why I will celebrate it and it’s kick-off day in the first place.

One thing that I do know about this season is that something is to be given up until Easter Sunday comes along.  The purpose is that when you think of that certain thing that you often eat, or the television that you like to watch, or the newspaper that you usually read, you will be reminded that you are fasting from these things so that you can spend that time meditating on your God and your faith.  That’s the plan at least.  Many times however people just fill the time with jig saw puzzles or reading romance novels or whatever, and such substitutionary pursuits really don’t benefit anybody other than the purveyors of such products.  This much I do know:  If the time freed up by this fast isn’t used to direct our thoughts to God, it’s an empty gesture and one might as well throw in the towel early.

I chose to give up Facebook this year.  I really enjoy communicating with real friends and others who share my interests in one area or another on various discussion groups.  I know that I spend too much time on ‘The Book’, and it seemed a good thing to put aside for the next forty or so days.  The rules are that I can pick up where I left off every Sunday, and so I will be doing some major catching up on those days.  I don’t know exactly why it is set up that way, but there it is.  Perhaps I’ll write about that tomorrow.

So today is day one, and instead of writing on Facebook I’m writing to you.  You know what?  I like it.  Earlier this afternoon I read two and a half chapters of a book and tried to spend some time lying back in my easy chair and meditating on God.  The book went well – it’s “The Skeletons in God’s Closet” by Joshua Ryan Butler – but the meditation was a complete flop.  I tried to visualize Jesus standing by the Sea of Galilee, but my mind drifted to my day at work, my first girl friend, a motorcycle ride across northern Mexico, anything but Jesus.  I tried to meditate on Jesus’ attributes; all I got was a blank.  Then I decided to embrace the blank; to try and let my mind come to rest.  No luck.  Soon my mind was like the midway at a carnival, with barkers hawking their games and amusements from every corner of my anything-but-tranquil mind.

So now I’m writing about this in the hope that it will somehow focus my mind on the matter at hand.  I will shortly snuff out the candle which I like to burn beside me when I write and go post this on my blog site.  I will then open the Bible, the Word of God, and see if jesus will meet me there and bring a little organization out of my jumbled mind.  Then I will go to bed and prepare for another day, another fast from Facebook, and another try to find what God would show me during this season, if anything.  All of this I will share with you if you are interested.

Here Comes Santa Claus

Behold, the holiday season approacheth, and when we say “holiday season” we mean, by and large, Christmas.  Thanksgiving is a big deal to be sure, and grocers and home decor retailers look forward to that day with breath bated and fingers crossed.  Halloween too is a financial bonanza for candy retailers and, a few years down the road, dentists and bariatric surgeons.  But Christmas is the holy grail of the holiday season.  All of the business concerns mentioned above plus a galaxy of other purveyors of toys, clothing, tools, jewelry and every other conceivable commodity up to and including fruitcake lick their chops and compete with each other gladiatorially for their share of the mega billion dollar pie which will be divided up between Thanksgiving night and Christmas Eve.  Even the President’s economic policies will be celebrated or panned according to the holiday fervor that will be expressed at cash registers and internet shopping sites these next two months.  And all of this is to celebrate – – – Christmas?

Many have lamented the commercialization of Christmas before and it is not my intention to harp on that theme now.  Christmas in America is, well, Christmas, Xmas, The Holliday Season, or whatever anyone wants to call it, and I will not presume to lecture anyone about how they should conduct themselves during this time.  My primary sphere of interest as concerns this season is to be found in how I conduct myself at this time, and I now propose to describe the manner of my celebration and the reason why I choose to celebrate in that manner.

To begin with, Christmas is the time when I pay special attention to the fact that Jesus was born.  You know, Jesus.  The Jewish kid born to a homeless couple two thousand years ago who had a short but remarkable career preaching that God loves the little, overlooked folk and pointed out that the authority for His teaching lay in the fact that He was actually God Himself.  Well, part of the Trinity really, but we’ll set that aside for now.  I don’t really know just what day Jesus was born on, and frankly I don’t care.  December 25 is as good a day as any, so it is just fine with me.

The whole concept of gift-giving is an interesting topic all by itself, but again I will limit my comments to why I give and how I chose to do so.  Jesus and His life provide my model.  Somewhere between Christmas day and two years later some really rich guys showed up and gave some very expensive gifts to baby Jesus.  I would bet that Jesus was not like the baby in the commercial that is trading stocks; He no doubt squalled and nursed and pooped in His diapers just like any other kid does.  Jesus’ parents almost certainly converted that gold, frankincense and myrrh into hard currency and used that money to pay the bills and finance their flight to Egypt to avoid the murderous soldiers of the paranoid King Herod.

Later, Jesus was famous for distributing funds to the poor and needy of the province of Judea.  He made a point of the fact that He didn’t have a place of His own to lay His head, but depended on the generosity of others as He passed out the gifts and offerings which came in as a result of His preaching and teaching.  Judas the betrayer even complained that a very expensive vial of perfume that a follower broke over Jesus’ head could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor, although many suspect that Judas had his hand in the till and really didn’t care so much about the poor after all.  Still, Judas’ complaint points out that the usual pattern for Jesus was to eschew luxury and pass on to the needy the things that they needed to survive one more day, and that point brings the whole topic of giving to my own personal doorstep.

My inclination is to celebrate Christmas the way the Three Wise Men did and the way Jesus did Himself.  As regards the Three Kings of Orient, I am as rich as they were in the eyes of poor people living in Africa, Asia, Latin America on reservations in the United States and elsewhere.  One little pot of gold probably didn’t stretch the Wise Man who brought it to Jesus, and a check for one or two or three hundred dollars to brighten the life of a family in Chad or Bolivia wouldn’t really stretch me all that much.  Heck, I spend that much every two weeks for groceries.  More than a new sweater for my wife, a computer game for my granddaughter, or a Made In Washington gift box for my brother, a gift to a family in Africa of rice, millet, some chickens or a goat and a few, and I do mean few, dollars to spend on something just for fun for a change, is a gift that I believe to be worth giving.

At home there are myriad individuals, groups and agencies who are dedicated to making life better for the shadow people living at the margins where I don’t have to see them in my comfortable middle class world.  These individuals, groups and agencies are blessed by every dollar given to them and they, in turn, bless the very people who Jesus came to minster to and hang out with.  Instead of a toy or some other item which will be forgotten by the time that the Super Bowl is played, money given to these recipients will truly fulfill the definition of a gift in my estimation and will be worth the effort of giving.

There will be elements of stress in this holiday season for me.  Many people cannot grasp the point of my gift-giving philosophy, and the label of ‘Scrooge’ will inevitably be invoked.  I do not intend to be the negative manifestation of Scrooge at all.  Rather, I hope to channel the Scrooge who emerged from the ordeal of the three visitations and lived a life of giving generously to those who were truly in need.  Also like Scrooge, I purpose to give to my family, my friends, and my community the gift of myself; my time, my relationship, my friendship, and my genuine interest in their lives.  But then, why should I wait until Christmas to do that?