Today's post was written by Brook Hills member and small group leader, Carol Brown.

What if We Just Stop? Stop the Madness! Look at Christmas Differently!

Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide commercial phenomenon. It is also a wonderful time of the year. There is more happening during this season of the year than any other. Why is it that when you want to soak in all that is going on around you, enjoy family and close friends, that the “busy” sets in. We have little time for all we want to experience. I need to stop and think. I need to stop and ask myself what is important enough to run for and what is important enough to slow down for.

So much giving takes place this time of year—serving and ministering to the poor, in both the Christian community as well as the secular community. For Christians, it’s a time when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. For the “world” and many Christians included, it’s a time to party, celebrate with family, and a time for Santa Claus.

We want our children to know the truth: that Christmas is about giving and not receiving. We want them to know that the best gifts are not always wrapped in paper. We want them to acknowledge that it’s about the great “gift” God gave to mankind - the Christ child, Jesus. All this we make sure they know, and if asked what Christmas is all about, they should know the right answers. Yet we send mixed messages. As some might say, “do as I say, not as I do,” because our actions as well as our priorities don’t always match what we are trying to instill in our children.

Of course, most of us do the traditional things that all American and European families do: we plan, shop many hours for just that right gift, hit the shopping malls at dawn so we have a shot at that item of the year. We chop, mince, stir, bake, set tables and reset tables, and for sure keep smiling. Most moms and grandmothers want to throw up their hands and say, “enough is enough.” Well, why don’t we?Because we have a hard time giving up what we have come to feel is our responsibility: to set traditions and bring the family together for as big a feast as we can muster up. After all, our mothers did it until they could do it no longer.

As I look at my Christmas giving, I need to stop and think. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the prospect of purchasing or even making Christmas gifts for everyone on your list. But we must not let that take the joy out of the act of giving itself. I must ask myself, “Is my giving reflecting the heart of my Savior?” Basically my holidays are filled with decisions about holiday decorating, Christmas party planning, preparing the foods to be taken to parties, and then what to wear to each of the gatherings. There is something about this time of the year that makes us think we have to do it all and be everywhere. I have a feeling that if we could learn to say yes to only the most important things, joy would be our reward.

I reflect on a dear sweet friend of mine (a few details changed to protect the innocent) who was so stressed one Christmas season that she reminded her friends that she did not have time for unnecessary distractions. She said she was busy making decorating decisions, planning Christmas dinner for 25, a skiing trip for the family to celebrate the holidays, their daughter was graduating from college, and she was trying to do Christmas shopping at the same time.

Wow! Just think of the frenzy this Christian sister was in. Does it remind you of yourself? I need to stop and think. Do we ever think how much some would love to be cooking for 25 or even to have one person to dine with at Christmas? Do we think about what some would give to have relationships healed between their estranged children, much less attend their graduation from college? Do we even think about how some would love to have a family who cared? I need to stop and think.

Now that I am older and see through different color glasses, I wish that I had done some things differently. Some of the things I would keep the same, but very much of it I would change. As I look back on history, I am faced with the fact that there has never been a society that had more “stuff” than we have. And, we don’t even use or need half of what we have. I am challenged to look at “stuff” and how it plays into Christmas, mainly gift giving.

Can I stop the tidal wave that pours in during Christmas and change the way I do gift giving? I know it will be a challenge, but I am ready to take this on. I want to challenge myself to give sacrificially, to give where giving is needed, not where it’s expected, and to include my family, especially my grandchildren, in giving differently.

I am reminded of the movie Little Women when they took their Christmas dinner to a family that had none, singing Christmas carols as they walked the snowy sidewalk. Just how would that feel? Ecstatic, I am sure. The feelings of joy that come to the giver come after the gift is given. God blesses us when we give as He intended.

If I could give the gift of peace, I would give it to my parents. As I have become caregiver for my parents, I have viewed their life as peace interrupted. Many days can pass for them when they experience little peace. Our Savior gives peace; He offers healing to those who are spiritually and physically ill. He comes alongside those who feel like they are doing it all alone and carries their burdens. The marvelous wonder of it all is that God uses us. Broken and sinful people that we are can be used to show the peace of Christ to others.

"Jesus said, 'Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.'” -John 14:27

If I could give the gift of friendship, I would give it to those who know no friends...touch the homeless who want to hear the words, “you matter.” I want to tell them there is a God who loves them unconditionally, that He is with them even on that cold night, and that He never lets them go to bed alone. He is always there. He offers a merciful and compassionate hand to those that society wants to forget.

“Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friend.” -John 15:13

I would give the gift of love much more than I do. I would find fewer faults in those around me and show the pure gift of love to the unlovely. It’s easy to show love to those who are kind and thoughtful, but how about those who show no love themselves? Anyone can show love to the lovely. While we were yet sinners He showed His love toward us. Because of His great love toward us, we can now show love to the unlovely.

“Let love be without hypocrisy.” -Romans 12:9a

Oh, and to offer hope to my neighbors. The Christmas season opens so many doors to be able to talk about the hope we have in Jesus Christ. He gave the greatest gift to a sinful and broken world. He offered hope to those who feel they have no hope. I want to point the way of hope where there seems there is none. A life without hope. Today is the day of salvation. I pray that boldness comes.

“According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” -1 Peter 1:3b

I would set some traditions for my family that focus more on the spiritual part of Christmas. After all, the birth we celebrate, this Child that was born of a virgin in a manger surrounded by the glory of God, was God in flesh, and He deserves our attention and our worship.

The great joy of Christmas is the wonder of the birth, the nativity, the opportunity to offer comfort to those who have lost so much, and the opportunity to practice generosity. At Christmas, we are reminded of God’s type of unselfish giving. How does He give? He gave His only Son that we might have life through faith. How does He give? He gives sacrificially, sacrificing His only Son to a sinful people. How does He give? He gives lavishly to His children who are so undeserving.

“'If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him.'” -Matthew 7:11

I am to be an imitator of Christ, and what better time of the year to do that than during the Christmas season. I need to embrace sacrificial giving not just at Christmas, but every day. I need to stop and think. My hope and prayer is that we all will stop, think, and pray about how we live out Christmas. We can start this year.