I would like to thank Mrs. Bowering for giving me another Christmas message to post on my blog site. She has a special way of engaging the reader to reflect upon the real reason for the season, please enjoy.
“What Does Christmas Mean to You”
By Shirley Bowering
Coley’s Point, Bay Roberts, NL
One of the purposes of the Advent Season is to help us anticipate and prepare for the celebration of Christmas – the birthday of our Lord. Yet in the midst of our busy lives, Christmas seems always to come upon us quickly and to catch us in a state of unpreparedness. How often do we feel the panic and hear the expression “No, I’m not ready, I haven’t begun to get ready!”
Whether we are or not, Christmas comes. This should be a thankful reminder to us that God didn’t wait until we were ready. The time had come – the need was great. He took it upon himself to reach out in love to us in giving his only begotten son, Jesus Christ our Lord. St. Luke 2 V-7, “And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Many sermons have been preached on that text; the Inn Keepers name was never mentioned. We feel rather sorry for the Inn Keeper because he was caught in such a bind. He wanted to help but he just couldn’t meet the demands to accommodate the late arrivals. On the other hand he just didn’t shrug his shoulders and close the door in their faces, he did what he could.
How often do we discover that we are unable to do all that is needed? Our efforts and gifts seem so small to meet the needs. One of the messages of the Christmas season is that we must do what we can. Doing what we can is – sharing all year round the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ by word and deed – taking time to listen to the other person – visiting a friend or a stranger – writing a letter – making a telephone call – giving a gift to the person too often forgotten – sharing our resources with the poor and needy and offering forgiveness when it is difficult to do – being faithful amidst the confusion and uncertainty of our times. For some people the only way to see Christmas is in the Nativity scene as presented by our Sunday Schools, dramas, concerts and so on.
During the past few weeks and days the stores have been full of busy shoppers, radio stations are playing a lot of Christmas music. We are being touched by the spirit of Christmas, families are making plans to be together and we have heard again that old familiar story “for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Each year our faith in God and in one another is renewed as we reach the stable where Mary and Joseph present to us the “Holy Child of Bethlehem” – the child who alone can bring peace and joy and meaning to a troubled world. Maybe it’s time we stopped looking at the Christ child and let him look at us. What would he say? He would be surprised at the way we celebrate his birthday. I’m sure he would like the gift giving and the family get together but really concerned about the pressures and demands that we bring to ourselves and others. He would be concerned about the excessive parties and food and money spent on gifts. I am sure he would want us to enjoy our lives but become more sensitive to our needs and the needs of others. I’m sure Jesus would want us to relax and realize that our world is not all warmth, flowers and joy. He would want us to think of the much unrest, poverty, hunger and fear of destruction. If often we see Christ looking out at us we will come to realize the fullness of the life that Christ came to bring. Supposing Jesus decided to visit us in person this Christmas. How would you and I receive him? Jesus would have to wear the long robes of ancient time to get any attention at all. Can you imagine what would happen if he arrived one day in December at one of our shopping malls dressed in today’s clothing, probably a striped shirt and jeans and announced to all that he was Jesus Christ paying a visit to his children as they all prepare to celebrate his birthday. Busy shoppers would laugh and pass him by. Suppose he walked in our church on Sunday dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, and announced that he was the Son of God. Would he be welcomed? Or would he be another case of “He came to his own but his own received him not.” Would Jesus fit into our plans for Christmas? Would you like to see him in the Christmas Shopping rush? What would he think of the mad commercial rush of Christmas Shopping, of the hustle and bustle? The noise? The complaints? The tremendous waste of money? The cheating and the shoplifting? Would you want Jesus to spend Christmas day at your house? Would he approve of your expensive presents while millions of his children in other parts of the world have little or nothing? Would he really enjoy your Christmas dinner while millions of our brothers starve in other Countries? Wouldn’t his presence make you uncomfortable? Would you invite Jesus to one your Christmas parties, with all the food and loud music? Would his presence spoil all the fun?
I heard a story a while ago about an elderly woman. She was a widow. She went to a thrift store to buy a warm winters coat, boots, gloves and a hat, if she was lucky. She appeared to be sad as she shuffled her feet from aisle to aisle. On one of the racks was a woolen coat that was priced $12.99. She tried it on, it was the best she could get. Looking inside her wallet she then slowly placed the coat back on the rack. She said to one of the clerks working there, I usually stop into this particular store as it is the only one that could provide me with prices I can afford. She said I didn’t always shop in used and second hand stores, actually I feel right out of place, having to purchase someone’s hand me downs. If my husband was alive he would not have allowed me to buy another woman’s used clothing. When he was alive we shopped only at the high priced department stores. I wondered to myself did this elderly woman return to purchase the used coat or did she do without it, could she afford it?
We often sing these words “you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why – Santa Clause is coming to town.” “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake!” Are we saying this to our children and grandchildren, what you receive for Christmas depends on how you behave? If you are good you will be rewarded and if you cry or pout you will receive nothing – If this principal were applied then very few, if any, (children or adults), would receive any outstanding reward. Isn’t it wrong to teach that we do good things just to be rewarded? Isn’t that selfish? It’s a good thing God doesn’t treat us that way. The Bible says; John 3-16, “For God so loved the world that he gave.” The Scripture tells us of the rich young ruler, (Matthew 19: 16-22), who thought that by obeying the Commandments and observing all the religious rituals he would receive favor from God, yet he went away a very sorryful man for he was unwilling to give.
It is so hard to believe that there are so many people in the Western world who never thought Christ was in Christmas anyway. Like the woman who stared at the manger in a store window and said “What next! Now they’re bringing religion into Christmas!” What does Christmas mean to you – Is it Santa Clause, is it all the celebrations or is it religion?
May we all be filled with the true spirit of Christmas again this year and celebrate Christ’s birth anew in our hearts, in our homes and in our Communities. It doesn’t depend on having all the trimmings and the costly shop gifts, but having love in our hearts and the costly giving of ourselves in love to God and one another. It depends on our remembering and including people, reaching out in kindness and love.
A blessed Christmas to you and your families!
Originally written, December, 2004
The Greatest Gift of All
by Shirley Bowering
Coley’s Point , Bay Roberts , NL
Before I post Mrs. Bowering’s post I would just like to say that I hope you take the time to fully read her writings, it is my wish that you absorb the full intentions in which it was written. It is not edited, it is taken from her own writing from December 18th, 2005 (She has been delivering these messages at her local United Church for over 15 years).
The Greatest Gift of All
For years we search for gifts for our children hoping to satisfy their materialistic wants bound up in their hearts. We also hope to give the perfect gift, the one that will leave that special memory to last for years to come. Some of us think we can do this by buying the biggest or the most expensive gift.
Today we want to give but we don’t want to give up anything in order to do this. Many of us are tempted by the letter from the bank letting us know that for Christmas month we need only pay the interest on our regular mortgage payment, and the friendly voice on the telephone “again” from the bank asking if we’d like a loan. Our mail brings the bill from our credit card, shopping with the message that we don’t have to pay anything on our bill this month in order to lighten the load of Christmas. It is easy to forget as the credit card gets run over in a machine under a cashier’s hand that we are sliding further into debt. Some of us forget that we owe it to ourselves to have a Merry Year – not just a Merry Christmas.
Our government tries to help the poor, or so it seems by sending out the child tax credit to low income families. Much of this is money could end up back in government controlled liquor stores causing heartache in the home and heartache in the streets, as more and more people find they can now afford to enjoy the Spirit of Christmas out of a bottle. How much will the child tax credit benefit the children for whom it is meant? Will their wants be met at the expense of their needs later in the spring? Right now we have good will centers, community groups, our own Helping Hand making sure children will not go without food or gifts for Christmas. That generosity, along with the child tax credit for the needy will not be there in the spring.
So often some of us have given gifts and we say it isn’t much – but it’s the thought that counts. It may be the thought that counts, but if we let Christmas come in without a gift going out, a thought won’t count for much.
There was once a little boy who wrote Santa Clause with “I’m asking for too much, please shorten my list.” Perhaps some of us are asking too much of ourselves in order to give too much too others.
The Scripture reveals to us concerning the “Rich Young Ruler Matt.19-16-22, who thought that by obeying the Commandments and observing all the ceremonies and religious rituals he would receive favor from God, yet he went away from God a very sorrowful man for he was unwilling to give.
We have to come back to God as it is recorded in John 3-16 “For God so loved the world he gave his only son,” eternal life from God is not a reward for goodness, it is given to us freely as a gift when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
This Christmas we will present gifts to our families and friends. We will no doubt give, not because they may not deserve it, but because we love them. Yes, your child may have asked for a computer, a bike or a pair of skates, but unless you give love you give very little. Don’t they need to hear “I love you.” Isn’t that what Christmas is all about. John 3-16 again tells us that the whole world is the receiver of God’s gifts.
On a cold December day in front of a toy store, six children lovingly admired the new Christmas toys. Two well dressed women passed by, just in time to hear a small voice say “Sure wish I could have one.” To which another replied “But Timmy, Christmas is only for rich people.” “Only for the rich?” asked Timmy sadly. As the women walked on in silence the words “Only for the rich” rang in their ears. “Let’s go back and find out where these children live” one suggested. “Then on Christmas morning they would know that Christmas is for everyone.” On Christmas day in a small cottage there was singing and laughter as six happy children played with the finest gifts and wore the warmest clothes that money could buy. God did not plan Christmas for the chosen few, what a difference these two women made in the lives of those six children, oh to have more people like them.
It is a constant battle to overcome the selfishness that is in us. How we are tempted to be negative to see only the bad, to remember only the worst in people, to find fault and condemn rather than see the good and give praise.
I have always loved Christmas carols and one of my favorite is “Silent Night.” I truly believe that Christmas would not be the same without them. If we could only take a little time out from the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, we could tell our children the whole story of Christmas by just reading some of the many Christmas carols.
Our story begins with spreading of the good news of the blessed birth as told to us in the old carol “The first Noel.” This carol tells us that the first people to hear the good tidings were the simple Sheppard as they faithfully tended their sheep. I think also that the carol stresses the point that in spite of the fact that Jesus was to be king of the world, God saw fit to use lowly shepherds as the heralds of the great news of the birth of “His Holy Son.” Another carol is “Good King Wenceslas” that tells us in my opinion why the blessed birth of Jesus happened in the first place, and if we do not follow in the Kings footsteps the whole meaning of what the other carols related to us will indeed be lost. This Carol shows us that even though people can be so far apart socially, love for God and fellowman can bring both closer together. Surely that is what Christmas is all about. It’s sad to know that whenever anyone mentions helping others the first subject that comes to my mind is money. A lump comes to my throat every time! I see one of our congregation leading a blind person to her pew, during a church service. Praise God that’s what helping is all about isn’t it? Shoveling a sick person’s driveway in winter, or cutting an elderly couples lawn in summer, that’s following in the “Good Kings” footsteps is it not?”
Do you really want to feel the true Spirit of Christmas? I mean really feel it. Well take an hour or so during the Christmas season to visit the Janeway Hospital, or at the home of some of the sick children. Believe me, if you ever needed to find the Christmas Spirit then my friend you have it, and have it good…right from your toes to your heart – that is of course if your heart can stand such a glorious uplifting. “Therefore, Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing, ye who now will help the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”
We must set our priorities straight and throughout the whole season of Christmas, give Jesus the love, praise, worship and the honor he deserves – and deserves from all of us. Each one of us must never forget whose birthday we are celebrating. Without a doubt our loving Jesus is delighted to see us make his birthday a time of family celebration, feasting and fellowship, but he expects our devotion to him to be the real centre and focus of our attention and all our activities.
We should look beyond ourselves and our immediate circle of friends. We live in a world crowded with less fortunate brothers in need. There may be, and I’m sure there is, people in our own community who need our help. These brothers and sisters may not need our financial aid, although you may be surprised how many could use our help, since we live in difficult times today. They may however be in more desperate need of our love, or our forgiveness because we have been ignoring or avoiding them. They may crave our presence, and our words of comfort and encouragement, because they are lonely, confused, afraid or grief stricken. Jesus wants us to reach out to such people and he reminds us that “In as much as you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me.”
What a privilege to be able to offer friendship and love to Jesus at Christmas time. Yes indeed, there are all kinds of ways we can give Jesus birthday presents at Christmas. If each one of us spent a little less time, effort and money on ourselves and more on those who really need our love and attention, we shall indeed please our Savior King – and make ourselves truly happy in the bargain.
I once heard a story about a dear old lady who spent a long and painful time suffering in hospital. At first many friends and relatives called and sent cards. A few people visited. The kindly lady who had all of her lifetime never missed an opportunity to visit the sick herself she was very much comforted and strengthened by the concern of her friends. But as the dreary days dragged on, many seemed to forget her. They became accustomed to the fact that she was in the hospital and besides they were all so busy with their own affairs. “ I haven’t heard from so and so lately,” she would sadly remark. ”I wonder if they’re sick or something.” Worse still, some friends and relatives never came or inquired at all, or perhaps they made a call to the old ladies home and their conscience satisfied, they seemed to forget all about her. They were all too busy. Was the old lady hurt by the negligence, yes she most definitely was. How she missed the comfort their visits would have brought a devoted Christian and a constant church attender. She was especially grieved that she saw so little of her fellow churchman. How sad to be wrapped up in ourselves and our own affairs that we have little or no time to help a fellow human being in need. The sick, especially those in hospital or nursing homes, need all the kindly attention we can give them. Christ himself certainly thought it important to cheer the sick “I was sick and you took care of me” he said to those he accepted into his glorious kingdom.
I feel very sad when I see the way people are prepared for the Holy Child. As I listen to the words of the carol “O Holy Child of Bethlehem” I pray that the Holy Child of Bethlehem will descend to each one of us, fill our homes with love and peace and stir up in us the need to go out and let our lights so shine – give a boost with our cables to the many hearts that need some light – “Gods light” So as to spread his word in this mixed up world. As we all stand and sing this carol this blessed season, let’s make our Holy Child this promise and love one another as we were commanded. Let us not forget “The Greatest Gift of All.”
Let us Pray
May God grant us the light of Christmas, which is faith, the warmth of Christmas, which is love, the radiance of Christmas, which is purity, the righteousness of Christmas, which is justice, the belief of Christmas, which is truth, the “ALL” of Christmas, which is Christ, in whose name we pray…Amen!