Each year in December the youth group will put an angel tree in the back of our church. On the tree are ornaments that list the name and gender of a local child. People will take the ornament and purchase a gift for the child.
It's heartwarming. I know that my church is generous. It takes good stewardship just to keep the lights on, the lawn cut, the water running and -- some would say most importantly -- the youth minister on staff. While I find things like a lighted office and a paycheck thrilling, the angel tree collection is much more fun than paid utilities. Walking into the church and seeing bicycles, board games, skateboards, Legos, baby dolls and MP3 players piled under the tree is a display of generosity that's exciting for everyone.
When I delivered these gifts to the local Catholic Charities in charge of distribution, their hallways were lined with bags that would be passed out to area families. Every corner was overflowing with donations of toys, canned goods and a ham dinner.
Generosity abounds during the Christmas season. This is awesome, and let me be very clear that I am not complaining. I'm not complaining about kids who ask Santa to bring their presents to children who don't have any. I'm not complaining about the 20-something single guy who donates the turkey his boss gave him to a family in need instead of letting it die of freezer burn in his apartment minifridge. I'm not complaining about the folks who drop off checks in our church office with the instructions to "pass this along to someone who needs it."
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The generosity I've witnessed each year in December is inspiring. It's the stuff Hallmark specials and really good Coke commercials are made out of. Humanity, I love you at Christmastime.
However, as you know, it's now Dec. 28. While the Catholic church will continue to celebrate Christmas until the Epiphany (the day we celebrate the three wisemen visiting baby Jesus) we're trudging back to work, getting back to the gym, and 98.7 FM has switched from Celine Dion's "Feliz Navidad" to "My Heart Will Go On."
With each week that passes in the new year, we'll get more caught up in the routine of working, sleeping and watching the Winter Olympics to once again try to figure out how curling works.
Meanwhile, Catholic Charities will pass out their gifts. They'll give away all the food donations. The ham dinner will be consumed. February, April and June will arrive, and there will still be need.
Matthew 25 holds a compelling description of the last judgment, when Christ returns and says, "Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Matthew 25:45). The incarnation -- Christ becoming man -- is what we celebrate at Christmas. However, we can't forget this reality as soon as Christmas is over. Christ continues to be present to us in each person we meet: no matter how deserving or nice or appreciative they appear to be.
It's almost the New Year. Resolving to exercise and improve your memory with games on your iPhone is good. Resolving to continue the generosity of Christmas isn't just good -- it's what Christ asks.
This can be tough to remember when there's a lot on our plates, and no one is ringing the bell for the Salvation Army outside Walmart to tug at our consciences. Whether it be a scheduled donation, a regular volunteer commitment or a Post-It note in our prayer journals, it's so important that we remember the words of Christ and know there's no one season for recognizing and loving him in our neighbors.