This is a holy season for multiple faiths and with our celebrations many of us spend time, money, and energy searching for perfect presents rather than reflecting on what our faith requires of us. It’s wonderful to share special times and gifts with family and friends but too many of us get overwhelmed by shopping for material things for loved ones. I hope parents, grandparents, and all of us will pause and ensure we give our young and each other more important gifts of time, attention, and family rituals—ourselves—that all children need. So many of us are passing onto our children an affliction with “affluenza,” the poverty of having too much that equals too little. Children need adults to show them that the greatest gifts are what they give to others in caring, sharing, and service and not just material things.
Many families volunteer in multiple ways, sharing and collecting food, clothing, and toys for others and making sure to express our true values—especially caring for our neighbors who have been left behind in our nation. Don’t be afraid to take children to serve meals to the homeless or to engage in discussions at family gatherings about those left out in the cold.
Teach children Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s reminder that “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
Each of us can also do our part to renew our congregations’ and communities’ commitment to service and justice. As those of us who are Christian celebrate a poor, homeless child threatened by Herod’s violence against innocent first born boys let us commit to standing up and caring for the millions of poor, homeless, hungry children living in our violent and materially rich but spiritually poor nation today. The poor baby in a manger gets lost like so many poor babies all over America needing food, shelter, safety, education and hope for the future. During this holy season, let’s commit to acting on God’s call through the prophet Zechariah “to see that justice is done, to show kindness and mercy to one another, not to oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, who live among you or anyone else in need” by serving and caring and joining together to work for a better nation and world. That is the greatest gift we could hope to pass on.
Lord, it is Christmas and
Herod is searching for and destroying our children,
pillaging their houses, corrupting their minds, poisoning their views,
killing and imprisoning the sons, orphaning the daughters,
widowing the mothers.
Herod’s soldiers are everywhere,
in government at all levels, on Wall Street, in religious houses, schoolhouses, courthouses and moviehouses,
Please lead us and our children to safety.
God, we confess that ours is still a world in which Herod seems to rule:
The powerful are revered,
The visions of the wise are ignored,
The poor are afflicted,
And the innocent are killed.
You show us that salvation comes in the vulnerability of a child,
yet we hunger for the “security” of weapons and walls.
You teach us that freedom comes in loving service,
yet we trample on others in our efforts to be “free.”
Forgive us, God, when we look to the palace
instead of the stable,
when we heed politicians more than prophets.
Renew us with the spirit of Bethlehem,
That we may be better prepared for Your coming.
(from Thankful Praise: A Resource for Christian Worship, edited by Keith Watkins)
Marian Wright Edelman is Founder and President Emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund