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24. December 2017 · Comments Off on CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT GIVING · Categories: Christmas · Tags: ,

The other day I heard a television personality say that the “real meaning of Christmas is giving”. Those of us who know and believe the biblical account of the incarnation know that this is true.  Christmas is about giving.  Not just because the three wise men gave gifts to Jesus, but because “God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Christmas is about giving.

But not everyone has received the memo.  As we watch the world around us settling down to “keep Christmas” and as we saw the overcrowded shopping malls in the past days, it would appear that Christmas is more about getting than it is about giving. Indeed, that is how most of us were introduced to Christmas:  we learned to eagerly anticipate it because Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, depending on your tradition meant a vast assortment of brightly wrapped gifts.  At least it was so, as long as I can remember.  I also remember that some gifts were more appreciated than others, depending on how young or mature we were.  We used to “feel” the gifts before unwrapping them.  If it was soft, it was something that we needed, like pajamas or maybe a shirt or socks.  But if it was hard and rattled, then maybe – just maybe it would be something on our wish list.  And some gifts we received depending on whether we were “naughty or nice” – as if a gift could be earned! Christmas is about getting, but before we can receive, someone had to give, and we figured out soon enough that it wasn’t Santa Claus or “Christkind” as my German heritage taught.

Some people dispense with giving and receiving with gifts altogether, taking the giving and getting out of the equation.  There’s nothing wrong with that, nor is it necessarily more right. When people ask me what I want for Christmas, I always say that I have everything that I need.  I used to tell my congregations, that the best gift that they can give me is to follow the Lord and live in His ways.  That always meant so much more to me than all of the “that was a lovely sermon” comments, and certainly more than the collection of ties, pens, and bric bracs that I have collected over the years. (Although I do have to admit that I miss the tasty treats that people used to leave outside my office door).

When it comes to giving, nobody can out do God.  He gave all of Himself, so that we might receive and have everything, and become joint heirs with Jesus forever.  Certainly God does not need anything that we give Him, but in His grace He receives what we offer Him out of love and gratitude.  And he also receives us when we bring Him our life of brokenness – and even our doubts. 

May everyone experience the true meaning of Christmas this year and always!




11. October 2015 · Comments Off on (HAPPY) THANKSGIVING ….OR JUST “GIVING THANKS”. · Categories: Grief · Tags: , ,

THAPPY THANKSGIVINGhis is Thanksgiving weekend, for the information of those reading this in other parts of the world.  For me, it will be a different kind of thanksgiving.  Unlike other years, there will be no turkey feasting and no pumpkin pie. The last time our family did that last year, my father sat next to me at the table. Now our ever-shrinking family will be together tomorrow on Thanksgiving Day.  But we will be in a funeral home, for the visitation of my father who died last week, on October 8. His funeral will be next week on October 13.

Since that day, it has been a roller coaster of emotion.  One moment I’m crying my eyes out, and then a while later a peace comes over me, and I’m thinking “I’ve got a handle on this.  Many others have gone through it.  I can do it too.”  And then out of nowhere comes another round of pain.  In the stillness of the night come a collage of memories taken from 89  years of his life, or at least the ones that I can remember.  Mixed in with those are the images of the last weeks of his suffering, and ultimately that phone call in the middle of the night that everyone dreads. And these lines are being written on Sunday afternoon.  For years Sunday afternoons followed the German tradition of “Kaffee und Kuchen” (email me if you really don’t know what that is!) While Mom was still alive I would often drive over to Kitchener, and the three of us would have that ritual, either at their home, or when she lived in the Nursing Home, I would pick up Dad, we’d pick up Tim Hortons coffee and take it to Mom, and then we at least were together.  Since Mom is gone, it was just Dad and I, and sometimes for special occasions my brother and his family would join in.  On those occasions when I couldn’t make it because of ministry commitments, we would at least talk on the phone on Sunday afternoons. As I watched something on the German TV channel earlier today, I made a mental note to share it with Dad, only to remember that he can no longer be reached by phone. Or reached any other way for that matter.

And yet, Thanksgiving is not just a day on the calendar.  It is a state of mind, of which St. Paul says, “be thankful in all things.”  So while this is a very sad weekend, (and that sadness will no doubt make itself known in all future Thanksgiving celebrations), there are things to be thankful for.

For one thing, I have gained a new respect for medical science, but not so much our health care system which let Dad down in many ways. But that’s not today’s topic.  Since his cancer diagnosis, I would say Dad was seen by at least a dozen doctors. They did what they could.  I am thankful particularly for those who went the extra mile, and especially those who added compassion to their medical skills.  But most of all, I’m thankful to God, who enabled people to gain the knowledge that they can use to help others.

I am thankful for those in the health care system who treated my father at home, so that he could be in his home right until the time that he entered the hospice, three weeks before his death. That meant a lot to Dad, and it means a lot to me.  And it means a lot to the health care system, for it is less expensive to treat someone at home than in the hospital.  Yes hospitals are great, as long as the treatment actually benefits the patient, but that comes at a price, and not just in dollars. Dad paid an emotional price.  During one of his hospital stays, when it became apparent that nothing more could be done for him, Dad was in a ward with two other men. They were in much worse shape than he was, and he was subjected to their cries of pain, as well as the details of their treatment (there is no privacy in a hospital room – curtains not withstanding). On one of my visits, he asked me, “are these going to be the last images that I see?” So when that high-level meeting took place with doctors, social workers, patient and family, to discuss treatment options, Dad was focussed on only one thing … getting out of that hospital and be back in his home. I’m glad we were able ot make that happen and that he had several weeks at home.  When he left his home for the last time, there were no tears (on his part), no sentimental regrets – just one thing: moving forward. Dad knew what a hospice is and why he was going there. And while he loved his home, he did not want to die there.  I am thankful today on Thanksgiving, that he got his wish. He had said, “When I die, I want to be in a peaceful place.”  He got that.  He wanted, if possible, to die in his sleep.  He got that wish granted also.

My wish? Of course I wish I could still have him with me.  But I also wished that he not suffer for a long time. Having a “Happy Thanksgiving” as people wish us, is nice. But more important that we be thankful, even if not happy.  Yes, we are sad this Thanksgiving weekend.  But we are also thankful.

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