Spiritual Stocking Stuffers, Your Gifts This Season!

Every December, followers of Jesus enter a season of expecting and remembering the amazing gift of Immanuel, “God is with us.” No present tops this: God entrusting the future Savior to Mary and her husband Joseph. But we sometimes forget the reason for the season. Right? It’s such a hustle, bustle time: post Thanksgiving busyness, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, last minute details.Seven different stockings hang from a lit mantle with evergreen, two nutcrackers and a metal reindeer. Soon, sparkling gifts under the Christmas tree will draw lots of excitement. But after December 25 , my family will say they enjoyed their stocking stuffer gifts the most–miniature “love” expressions: a poem, a candy bar, a coupon for a back rub. I’m hoping the following six spiritual stocking stuffers will help you soar through the rest of 2015 and beyond. They are yours for the taking.

1. The first stocking stuffer is a “God Bless Our Home” magnet. Do you hear the Shopping Sirens beckoning you to give someone happiness with an object? Consumerism makes it more difficult to be grateful for what weStained glass orange and green magnet with Celtic chain designs in two corners says "God bless our home." already have. Think a little deeper about this magnet’s cliché. If we have food to eat, a furnace that works and shoes on our feet, these are gifts. Our homes may not be mansions, but the space is ours. The Ecclesiastes Wiseman declares, “Likewise, all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 5:19, NRSV).

2. Reaching into the Spiritual Stocking for gift number two, we pull out several “Small Framed Pictures,” tied in ribbons. Perhaps inside your stocking is a framed photo of a new family member– a baby who dazzles you as he is Baby boy in a red, Winnie the Pooh sweatshirt, also wears a candy cane stripe cap. He lies on a red plaid blanket and has a look of wonder on his face.dazzled by his first Christmas lights. Or maybe, during this season, an engagement ring has been given, and suddenly in your stocking materializes that first snapshot of a stranger who will be there for future holidays. TheTwo homemade Christmas ornaments with red ribbon show a little smiling girl encircled by a green felt wreath and a Polaroid photo of a little boy standing in front of Christmas ornaments. Ecclesiastes preacher tells us, “As the saying goes, A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break.” (4:12). In other words, there can be strength in numbers. These photographs can represent gifts from God. With his influence they will make your family stronger and more unique.

Maybe your framed pictures feature friends rather than family. In my former city, relationships ebbed and flowed quite frequently because of job transfers. Sometimes, just as friends became family, they moved away. I used to mourn these losses. Then I realized I was not trusting God’s will for others. During Advent, I review with gratitude those who have left and those who have arrived to make me a better person (“Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another,” Prov. 27:17).

3. The third stuffer is an “I Love My Work” button. The Ecclesiastes Wiseman declares that finding satisfaction in work is “the gift of God” (Ecc. 3:13). Some of us live with stressful jobs and difficult bosses/co-workers, but sometimes we rise to a place where our projects turn out so well we celebrate! Whenever you complete a job and realize, “This is good work,” then you have received a gift from God. Even the unemployed and shut-in can appropriate this stocking stuffer, because there are unique opportunities for “good works”: volunteering, praying for others, keeping a cheerful spirit, encouraging others.

Black mountain contrasts against a sunset of black, orange, and white clouds, with a small amount of blue sky.

4. The fourth stocking stuffer is a child’s drawing of flowers. What I like about this stuffer is that it illustrates an effort to pause and appreciate nature’s beauty. God has shown many of his invisible qualities in creation. I hope you savor sunrises and sunsets. Or, slip on your coat and view a sky filled with stars. Maybe, pause two minutes and watch a bird in flight or listen to its song. Nature lives under sin’s mark, but incredibly God’s gifts shine through. They’re free daily, just for the taking. The Psalmist puts it: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge” (19:1-2).

5. The fifth stocking stuffer is a “Shiny ornament shaped like a gift-wrapped box –Scripture states that each believer has received spiritual gifts from God. These gifts need attention to develop. The Apostle Paul encourages Timothy (and us) to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you” (II Tim. 1:6). Maybe it is time for prayer, reevaluation and action. Take your shiny, spiritual gifts out of the stocking and hang them on the tree for others and yourself to enjoy! Rekindle!

Small pewter Roman soldier stands with sword ready for battle.6. Finally, we pull out the sixth stocking stuffer—a Pewter Soldier. Some may find this a bizarre gift during the season of honoring the Prince of Peace.  Two points are certain for the believer:

1. Jesus’ promised return is closer than it was last year. Hurray, evil will be vanquished!

2. This soldier reminds us who the real enemy is. Our God does not give us a spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind.  He provides gifts of armor to stand against anything that comes our way: belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes for gospel proclamation, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word (Eph. 6:10-18). Is it a season to reevaluate if you are fully using these gifts?

A lump of coal–If you are sad or angry this Christmas, you may feel the only spiritual stocking stuffer God has given you is a lump of coal. You may hate your job. Your home may have been wiped out by flood or fire. That new baby in yourA lump of black coal has a red ribbon stuck to the top of it. family is severely handicapped. Or, maybe someone dear to you is not with you this Christmas and your depression has colored everything in twilight limbo. I understand. I have had a Christmas or two when I doubted the trustworthiness of God based on hellish realities. My suggestions of spiritual stocking stuffers just won’t cut it.

But if you must hold that lump of coal, remember there is something for you this holiday: that “indescribable gift” hanging on God’s Christmas tree. From the present of a baby in a manger came a cross, a tomb, and a resurrection for you. In Him, you can survive this Christmas and have the assurance of wonderful gifts in the future. That coal will compress into a diamond, and someday you will enjoy spiritual stocking stuffers galore!

 

Hospitality in Thanksgiving

We were dining at a Chinese restaurant last year when our hostess joyously mentioned she had attended her first Thanksgiving dinner after living in the U.S.A. for over 18 years. Parents of her daughter’s friend had extended the invitation for the traditional turkey and all the trimmings. I was happy she was thrilled to experience this American tradition. But it struck me as sad that it had taken years for her to get an invitation. Besides the word “Thanks-giving” during this season, one word keeps popping into my thoughts: “hospitality.”

I recently attended a workshop for sensitizing social workers in their interactions with the poor. “Hospitality” was bounced around a lot. Greeting a “client” with a handshake, offering a cup of coffee, using facial openness like eye contact and smiles, and seeing problem-solving as a collaborative effort–all suggestions came under “hospitality.” Of course, these are small gestures for big problems, but they certainly have meaning for most people. The 40 social workers seemed empowered.

Massasoit (1580-1661) sachem (chief) of the Wampanoag people and lifelong ally of the Pilgrims.
Massasoit (1580-1661) sachem (chief) of the Wampanoag, lifelong ally of the Pilgrims. This larger-than-life statue is displayed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Massasoit holds a peace pipe.
William Bradford statue
Statue of Gov. William Bradford (1590-1657) stands today in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Bradford participated in the Plymouth Thanksgiving of 1621 and wrote Of Plymouth Plantation.

When Sachem Massasoit and his 90 Indian men ate with William Bradford and some 50 Pilgrims I am sure hospitality was in play. Massasoit’s men brought five deer for the feast, which lasted three days. We know Pilgrim men went “fowling,” so there would be enough meat. Birds, including turkey, were roasted and stuffed with onions and herbs. The feast probably included corn porridge, berry sauce, squash, fish, and nuts. Those four Pilgrim women, who survived that first winter (and the indentured servants, children), must have been bone weary with very soiled aprons! I digress, but what a picture.

It’s interesting to read about the epistemology of the word hospitality. You can go down a long road of discovery, but I don’t want to bore you. Let’s just stick to a few interesting tidbits. Thanks to Online Etymology Dictionary, we find hospitality:

–is rooted in the 14th century word hospital as the “act of being hospitable,” from Old French ospitalité “hospitality; hospital (the caring of a stranger)”;

–from Latin hospitalitem (nominative hospitalitas) “friendliness to guests,” from hospes (genitive hospitis) “guest; host”;

–the word hospice or “rest house for travelers” appears in the 18th century, particularly among monks traveling through the Alps. As we understand the word today, hospice, as a “home for the aged and terminally ill,” was first used in 1879.

It was an “ah-hah” moment to read about the definition of “host” or hospitis.  The word is a compound of host and guest. Its usage can lead one to the altar of the Eucharist where we, the guests, are interlinked to the provisions of our most powerful Host, the Lord of hosts. Do you think there is something meaningful here for our Thanksgiving 2015?

There are darker words that circle the hospitality family, words like “hostage” and “hostile.” They’re kind of like the obnoxious guests who spoil the Thanksgiving meal. Hostage comes from the Old French where, among other uses, it was the name for the person held by a landlord for unpaid compensation. Hostile, from late 15c., Middle French, means  “belonging to an enemy” or directly from Latin hostilis “of an enemy or characteristic of the enemy” and hostis: simply “enemy.” Since a stranger could either be an enemy or a guest, one can appreciate this ancient fork-in-the-road usage.

A little bit farther back in epistemology,  the Greek word for hospitality has some contemporary interest. You know this word in Xenia, Ohio. In 1803, the Rev. Robert Armstrong suggested the Greek word Xenia for the town because it implied friendliness and hospitality to the xenos (guest). Xenophobia is “the fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.” Does this resonate with any attitudes you’ve encountered about the millions of refugees today who, just like the Pilgrims, seek a safe harbor? I agree; it’s a complicated topic.

A small boat rests on a Greek shoreline surrounded by discarded orange vests and other debris.
This refugee boat made it to a Greek island last month.

The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag could have gotten it all wrong that Thanksgiving in 1621, but they didn’t. Both groups reached out beyond their comfort zones. Both were giving and receiving. Both groups were thankful for a good cultural exchange. Because they did this under wise and honorable leadership, they experienced a peace between each group that lasted throughout their lifetimes. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the alternatives.

A little girl's white patent shoe rests on a red life preserver surrounded by rocks.
One little refugee loses her shoe.

 

 

Hebrews 13:2–Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

 

 

To view some three-minute videos on Plymouth in 16202-21 check out: www.history.com/topics/mayflower

Signs of My Times

“Signs of My Times” are messages I’ve discovered hither and yon that you might find amusing or inspiring. If you capture any worthwhile signs via camera, I would enjoy seeing them and perhaps posting at a later date.

One of my favorites is the following telegram from Al in 1946. Read what Al requests.

Photo of Western Union telegraph, from June 1, 1946. This telegram says, "Bought waterfall. Stop. Need eight blondes to sell curios. Stop. Advise." (from Seven Falls Restaurant memorabilia)
“Bought waterfall. Stop. Need eight blondes to sell curios. Stop. Advise.” (from Seven Falls Restaurant memorabilia)

This sign on a woman’s bathroom stall at a restaurant in Spearfish, South Dakota, cheered me.

"Smile...You're losing weight!" Chalk board sign on green door with pink swirl borders

 

Black and white San Franpsycho sign hangs on rod above green sign for "Sundays"

 

 

Do you think other words are needed for this sign from California?

 

 

 

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Here are directions for keeping one’s car safe at Praise Mountain Retreat Center, Colorado.

 

 

We each need inspiration and encouragement. Do the following signs help?
Typewriter font sign says, "Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth."

Blue comic style font says, "Don't Give Up...Moses was once a basket case."

Box sign in cursive font says, "What we have once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us." Helen Keller

I was at a fund-raiser banquet recently for Hope and Home–a great organization that supports foster parents and their children. On each table were sweet notes like the one below:

Message on a folded index card in child scrawl reads, "Thanks for helping kids find a home.--Love Brianna"

At a community festival recently one booth had a Post-it “Happy Board.” Here is what my seven-year-old companion wrote:

Green Post-it on orange board reads, "I am happy when my Mom hugs me."

What Post-it note would you write if asked, “What makes you happy?”

This tree branch below is in San Jose Municipal Rose Garden.

Sign tacked to branch says, "I am old. Please do not climb me."

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Arabic writing and "Que La Paz Prevaleza En La Tierra" in black letters on long rectangle white sign attached to a red post.

 

 

 

A multi-language post for peace in front of the campus ministry office at Santa Clara University.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s good to remember the following:

Black sign with white letters says, "Contrary to popular belief, I'm still alive! --Jesus"

 

"I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent. Written on cellar wall during Holocaust."

“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.” (Written on cellar wall during Holocaust.)

 

Keep alert for the signs of your times all around you.

You can see “Signs of My Times, Part 1,” at http://www.csboyll.com/?p=925