by David Phelps
"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa
Do you remember what you got for Christmas? What was your favorite gift? Your most unusual? I have an advantage over you, because it's much closer to Christmas when I'm writing this than it will be when you're reading it. You won't read these words until early March. In fact, you may be wondering why I'm writing about Christmas instead of St. Patrick's Day. I started writing this column in December but I had already written one for January and there was no newsletter in February so I saved this one for March.
I received two favorite Christmas presents in 1998: My great grandmother's Bible, and the news that my father had finally quit smoking. The previous year, my favorite was a new wallet from my wife, Charlotte, and our daughter, Monica.
But none of those was the most unusual Christmas present I received in 1998; the most unusual present came from the gift exchange at the departmental Christmas party at work. Each of us drew numbers to determine which gift we would get. That's how a man got a bottle of "Charlie" perfume, and a woman got a box of chocolate covered bugs. And how I got a limited edition Stan Musial commemorative harmonica. Unfortunately, I don't play the harmonica.
Afterward, the person who had given it, a man named Steve, told me, "It doesn't matter whether you play the harmonica or not. These are hard to find and it will be worth something someday."
I thanked him, and only wished it had gone to someone who could appreciate it more.
During the 1998 holiday season, a Santa in an Arkansas shopping mall discovered that an eighteen-month-old infant had stopped breathing. The Santa quickly put his CPR training to use and revived the child. In recognition of his life-saving deed, the mall rewarded him -- with a $20 mall gift certificate.
While we were on our pre-Christmas vacation, our six-year-old daughter, Monica, saw a sign for a "Pizza Inn" restaurant in Oklahoma and thought it was a place to stay for the night. She thought it was a neat idea that you could get pizza and a room in the same place.
Many years ago, one night in Bethlehem, the owner of a stable gave a man and woman the only gift he had to give -- a place to stay for the night "because there was no place for them in the inn." (Luke 2:4-7). That same night, God gave a gift to the world: God's only child, Jesus (John 3:16-18; I John 4:9-10).
What is the value of a human life? Is a child worth no more than a $20 gift certificate? How do we measure the value of the gifts we receive -- or give? Sometimes, a place to stay, a meal, warm clothing, or a kind word can be worth more than all the treasure on Earth.
Let's remember God's love gift by giving our own gifts of God's love: Gifts of charity, hope and witness.
Steve was wrong about the harmonica. It won't just be worth something someday -- it's worth something now. The best gifts always are.
"He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generousity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others; while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift." (2 Cor. 9:10-15 RSV).