Our Baptist church choir has been working on a cantata suitable for Christmas. I believe working on special projects like this, and the one we do near Easter, is a healthy exercise for the well being of the choir, and a church body for that matter. It really helps us focus on what we're doing and why we're doing it.
Way back when I was directing the choir I couldn't help but notice the numbers in our choir would gradually dwindle if we didn't do two cantatas per year. The lesson for me was if you think things are beginning to stagnate, do something, and just get busy. It might be a temporary fix but at least it will be a fix.
For families, Christmas is that way, too. We should focus once each year on the reason we're here. Without that focus, some can become distraught with their family situation. Christmas dinner can turn into a hateful gathering of relatives. We can become lost. If we spend all our time filling the calendar with the wrong types of activities and shopping and the high expectations that this time of year can bring, then we're set up for failure.
Organized activities in churches and clubs and families is a healthy thing, don't get me wrong. The secret is to at least focus on something worth the time spent. Kids would be a good thing to home in on this time of year. Not the toys we plan to give them but a focus on the kids themselves. Give them time. Listen to them, and plan to show them how to spend their time to help others.
I began to notice years ago that immediately following a church service there were always certain folks who seemed to draw children like a magnet. It still goes on today. All of those adults with kids surrounding them have one thing in common: they all get their faces down on a level with the kids. They bend over or kneel down to speak to the youngsters face to face. Try it, it works.
Concerning gift giving, it used to bother me that when my folks reached a certain age, they began answering the question, "What do you want for Christmas?" with something like. "Please don't give me anything; I'm trying to get rid of stuff." "Just come for dinner if you can."
I've now reached that age myself. I know there is an unspoken obligation to give something to your parents for Christmas but really, think about it. I tell my kids, "I'm 61 years old, if I really wanted it or needed it, I've already got it." But stuff is gracefully accepted, I'll admit that I do smell better after I open a bottle of cologne on Christmas morning.
A few years back I received an envelope from one of our children. It simply said, "In lieu of other gifts, a monetary gift has been given, in your honor, to a named charity to purchase food for the needy." I wasn't ready for the instant effect it had on my emotions. It more or less knocked the wind out of me. It was thoughtful and heartfelt and exactly the kind of response Christmas time should evoke.
Don't misunderstand me, the Morrow family's trees will be filled with the usual fare and probably enough electronics to awaken us in the middle of the night and say, "What the heck was that." My wife will calmly say "something needs charging, go back to sleep."
But above all else we need to remember that those folks who are so loved by children that kids flock to them like sheep to a shepherd didn't actually invent the technique of coming down to their level in order to communicate.
That started about 2000 years ago near Jerusalem.
Marilyn and I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and Peace.