Thursday, 20 December 2012

Seasonal Inspiration: Part 1

Over the last few weeks I’ve come across several pieces that have inspired me greatly. I have shared them in worship during this Advent Season. I thought I’d share some of them with you in this the first of two blogs...

The following was sent to me by a friend. I can't read it without it bringing a tear to my eye. I couldn't even listen to it being read out in worship without having the same effect...

For the Man Who Hated Christmas” by Nancy Gavin

It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas--oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it--overspending... the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma---the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.
It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids - all kids - and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition--one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.
As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down the envelope.
Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.

The following inspired me to explore the two spirits that are present at Christmas as they are throughout the year. It is also inspired me to look at "Scrooge" as the Christmas archetype. He is the perfect embodiment of both spirits and I believe he speaks to all aspects of our shared humanity

“Two spirits at Christmas” by Max D Gaebler

There are really two spirits of Christmas, each very different from the other, yet both deeply ingrained in our celebrations of the season. and I suspect most of us have more of both within us than we ordinarily recognise.

The first, of course, is the one we usually talk about, the spirit of good will and peace. It is this spirit that bids us renew our hopes amid the gathering darkness, that kindles our generosity and our concerns, that attunes our ears to the ever-renewed angelic chorus.

But the second, equally inseparable from the observations of this season, is the spirit of Scrooge’s “Bah! Humbug!” We all know that hatred and distrust will not disappear from human relationships just because we say it ought to be so. We all know that peace on earth is lot more complicated than it sounds in the Christmas hymns. We all know that if the world and the lamb and the leopard and the kid, the calf and the young lion all got along with one another as famously as Isaiah prophesied that they would, then some of these animals would die of starvation.

What is comes down to is that we give voice at Christmas to extravagant hopes that are beyond the range of any possible fulfilment. They are, as we say in our more sober moments, unrealistic.

But the real question is whether this is so bad. Perhaps the part of wisdom is to accept this reminder of the gap between the real and the ideal for what it is, a spur not only to our hopes but to our imagination and energies. It would be foolish to ignore the element of wishful thinking in our Christmas hopes. But how unspeakably more foolish it would be if we were to accept present reality as the last word and to stop dreaming altogether.

Our hopes are bound, of course, to be disappointed, at least in part. So long as time endures we shall remain creatures in the making, somewhere this side of perfection. Yet there is always hope for moving beyond the tragic failures of the past – if not all the way, at least a few steps farther. Our hopes are forever bound to fall to ashes; yet out of the ashes there can always emerge new hope – again and again and yet again.

I love the following story which was sent to me by my friend and colleague Rev Gillian Peel. It got me thinking of my favourite Carol "In the bleak mid winter" and the line "what shall I give him, give my heart". It's not really about the gifts we give but the spirit in which we give. when we give from our hearts we receive all that our hearts could ever desire. The gift truly is in the giving

"Long Walk Part of Gift" by DAVID S. BLANCHARD

The best story I ever heard about gift-giving has nothing to do with Christmas, and everything to do with Christmas. It's about an African boy who wanted to give a gift to his teacher, who was going home to England. The child had no money and his options were few. The day before the teacher was to leave, the child brought her a huge seashell. The teacher asked the boy where he could have found such a shell. He told her there was only one spot where such extraordinary shells could be found, and when he named the place, a certain bay many miles away, the teacher was speechless.

"Why ... why, it’s gorgeous ... wonderful, but you shouldn't have gone all that way to get a gift for me." His eyes brightening, the boy answered, "Long walk part of gift."

"Long walk part of gift." Most of the meaningful gifts we give to each other require some version of that "long walk." The long walk we sign on for with children, who need our patience, our wisdom, our honesty, and our trust more than we might first have imagined when their lives began. The long walk we share with our spouses, which takes us through uncharted, unexpected territories of sickness and health, richer and poorer, better and worse. The long walk we take with our friends when they are grieving the loss of someone they love, when they are ill, when they are discouraged. The long walk of feeling a sense of unity with those whom prosperity has left behind. The long walk of reconciliation with all that separates us from a deep sense of life’s great purpose and meaning. "Long walk part of gift."

When Christmas has been tidied up and packed away for another year, the gifts acknowledged, many already forgotten, the New Year stretches in front of us. What will get us through those months, with all that they may hold, will not be the things in the boxes. We must look to the hands of those who bought and wrapped and carried those gifts. With their gifts, they are telling us something too wonderful, perhaps too embarrassing, for words. They are telling us that, for us, they will take the long walk.
So when you open the box and find the socks, the bath salts, the fruitcake, the pot holder, or the seashell from a distant ocean, remember that it's not just "the thought" that counts. Remember too,
"long walk part of gift."

This follows a similar theme and makes the point that the value in the gift is in the love contained within it. I actually remember John preaching on this several years ago when he was my minister. “Poinsettia” by Rev John Midgley 

In recent years a plant, the poinsettia, has become a new symbol of Advent, because of its joyous red colour and the story associated with it.

It originates from Mexico where the associated legend is a miracle story, told to the children as part of the Festival of the Holy Journey, a re-enactment of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. It comes to its climax when the couple arrive in Bethlehem and find no room at the inn. For the Christmas Eve service the people of the towns and villages attend their church and bring gifts for the Christ child, as the three Wise Men did.
The story tells of Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who wanted to attend but had no gift to bring. As she walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy. “I am sure, Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes,’ said Pedro to her, consolingly. Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggy bunch, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel. All this was made worse by the jeering remarks of those who had bought much grander gifts.
As she approached the alter, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit life as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene.
Suddenly the leaves of the bouquet of weeds changed. They were transformed into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain that they had witnessed a Christmas miracle, right before their eyes. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as Flores de Noche Buena, Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.
“Even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable”

Again this continues the same does Santa do it? Well because he fuelled by love...the gift is in the giving and the caring...We can be in top physical shape but that is of no use to us if we aren't in tip top spiritual shape...

“How does Santa do it” by Bruce T Marshall 

I came across a study conducted by psychologists from Harvard and Yale that may shed light on the age-old question. How does Santa Claus do it? How does he keep fit year after year despite a break-neck schedule?

In this study, two groups were told that the plant was theirs to take care of and that its fate would depend on their efforts. They also were told that they were competent men and women who should be making decisions for themselves.

People in the other group were told that their plants would be looked after by the nursing home staff just as the staff took care of them because, after all, they were in the home to be cared for.

Within a few weeks the researchers found a noticeable difference between the two groups. Those who cared for their own plant showed an increase in emotional and physical well-being and a visible increase in activity levels. Eighteen months later, the mortality rate of this group was only half that of the other.

A theme of the holiday season is giving. Giving of course, can become obligation and a cause of considerable stress, but it also enhances our lives as it connects us with others. We are reminded of those who are important to us and who depend on us. Our gifts are in thanks for those who keep us involved in life.

Santa Claus, after all, is overweight, smokes a pipe, and lives on a diet of mince pies and milk (whole milk at that). How does he do it?

It’s probably all that giving and caring – and those people depending on him – that keeps him such a healthy and happy old elf.

1 comment:

  1. Danny, the story of the envelope brought a tear to my eye too - but I had to laugh as well - thinking about Santa keeping fit.