As I write this piece Judy (my wife) and I are returning from Southeast Asia, where our son and daughter-n-law serve as missionaries. This trip was a refreshing reminder of the joy of giving. We were able to share gifts of encouragement with several missionaries. It is such a blessing to encourage others and to see the joy on their faces as they received our gifts.
As I connect the joy of Christmas giving to what I experienced in SE Asia, I am reminded of several gifts we should share at Christmas and throughout the year. First, there is the gift of unconditional, unsolicited love. Our giving to the missionaries was unsolicited and unconditional. All around us there are people crying out for unconditional love. I think of Jesus’ love for the social outcast, the leper, the demon possessed, and the unlovely. He displayed the grace of unconditional love.
The gift of encouragement is also needed. We planned the gift giving for the missionaries as an act of encouragement. Likewise, there are people all around us who need encouraging-- the single mom seeking to raise children by herself, the lonely senior adult who receives few visits from family, the recently released prisoner who is trying to rebuild his life, the cancer victim who struggles with the insecurity of the future, the widowed/widower who faces the first Christmas alone. All of these individuals need the gift of encouragement.
The greatest gifts are not necessarily those that can be wrapped in a package. Some gifts require extra effort and extra thought to process. It is easy to love when it is expected or the love flows along family or friendship lines. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?” (Mt. 5:46-47 HCSB) The words that stand out to me in this passage are the words “out of the ordinary.” As a Christian and a minister, am I willing to go beyond the call of duty? Am I willing to go beyond the ordinary?
A few days ago I heard a story, on the morning news, about a young American Marine who went beyond the call of duty. He went beyond the ordinary. He took a bullet and died in a valiant effort to rescue a medical doctor who was being held by Islamic extremists in the Middle East.
As ministers and Christians there are certain things we are expected to do. We are expected to fulfill our responsibility to the church. We are expected to maintain a Godly character. We are expected to support our families. These are all noble and commendable actions. My prayer is that, during this holiday season, and throughout the year, we will fulfill what is expected but also seek out those actions that are beyond the ordinary. Such actions will bring us an extra special level of the “Joy of Giving.”