Guaranteed Joy: The Twelve Blessings of Christmas

It is one thing to *want* to focus more on giving time and gifts of love to Jesus and others at Christmas. It is another to actually resist the cultural gravitational pull of manic celebrations, %50 off sales and pouring all our energy into producing our own family Christmas.
I like the *idea* of spending less on things we don’t need and focusing on lavishing unexpected kindness on others, especially the least of these, but the actual reality? That’s not so much what my track record tells me. This year has afforded a new opportunity to actually DO something.  In the ten days still left before Christmas—here are some ideas to move past the “idea” to the “reality.” 

The Twelve Blessings of Christmas
Saturday before last a goodly number from our church gathered for a Twelve Blessings of Christmas event. We split into teams to go bless our neighbors, refugees, the elderly, and more. Each team had two hours and $100. One team raked a neighbor’s yard…80 bags worth
Another took beautiful baskets of food and grocery gift cards to an elderly couple and a single mom who had struggled this past year.
Another team went to help refugees that enter the US legally. So many arrive here with nothing. They are given three months’ assistance to find an apartment and a job. Often they speak little or no English.
The youth took boxes of donuts to the firefighters at the fire station and used the rest to drop a giant tip on an unsuspecting waitress. 
And one team went to an apartment complex for people with disabilities and delivered to each door a poinsettia with a nativity ornament and a personally signed Christmas card.  One of our elder’s wives holds a Bible study there so the door is open for follow-up connection.
That team also went to a restaurant intending to leave a large tip but instead asked the waitress to bring them the check of a black pastor and what looked like his dad. The team filled an envelope with money to cover the check and wrote on the outside, “Merry Christmas, brothers. We have really been praying for your community the last few weeks.” The pastor read the note. We could not see his face because we were sitting behind him, but he briefly lifted his hands in praise.
We give to the least of these. To Jesus. After all it’s his birthday. And God gives back to us “surprised-by-joy” faces and more contagious joy than we can hold. The man who arrives home stunned at his clean-for-the-holidays yard. The Russian elderly woman and her husband that join in a circle of prayer. Smiles that linger on our faces. In our hearts.
When we share the stories at church others are inspired to do something like it within their own families: On the countdown to Christmas the parents and children purpose to think of one gift of love and kindness a day to give someone in their family or neighborhood. Bake goodies, clean up a mess, caroling. Ann Voskamp and her family have refined this into an artful tradition that she writes about here
These stories remind me that a group of us years ago banded together at Christmas to secretly deliver gifts to our friend’s door after she lost her husband. The gifts corresponded to the 12 days of Christmas. Every day she discovered a new note and gift. Every day she wept over the small remembrances of love.
There is an ocean of need out there. We have only to ask and Jesus will show us ways to love and to give this Christmas.
As always, what he really wants is the gift of our hearts. Which always involves sacrifice. My small sacrifice came in the wake of Black Friday shopping this year. In the midst of the 50% sales and the great selections in my favorite clothing store I scooped up a few purchases for myself. After all, I rationalized, I will have Christmas money coming to me and I can get the best deals now. 
But once I got them home I could sense Jesus wagging his head at me. I had just facilitated a terrific Bible study where we discussed how rationalization can be a tell-tale sign of a heart idol—loving something more than Jesus. And how Jesus knows how much our idols hurt us and wants to free us from their control.
The more I thought about taking those great clothes back the more I rationalized. Well, I won’t wear them before Christmas. Well, if the gift money doesn’t come in this year I’ll take them back. The more I rationalized the more I realized: somehow this is like the final exam in the study. My sense of conviction was so strong. It was so clear that this is what Jesus wanted me to do. Would the leader pass the test?
I took them back to the store on Saturday. “Was anything wrong with the items?” asked the cashier. “No,” I responded. She looked at me…waiting. “I just felt like I was spending too much on myself. I want to give more to others,” I said. 
She laughed, “Oh girl, you can never spend too much on yourself. You worked hard all year. Now this is your reward!” She shook her head as she offered the return receipt for me to sign.
I walked out smiling. I had thought I might feel sorry to let the pretty things go. But I simply felt joy and lightness in doing what Jesus asked.  A tiny little taste of Isaiah 58:6-8  
Is not this the fast that I choose:… to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 
Please…help us out and add your ideas to these in the comments below!

Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.