Is it trite to say that Christmas is a time for giving? As I write this article I’m concerned that I am turning into Captain Obvious
from the Hotels.com commercials on TV. Indeed, Christmas is a time of giving. We celebrate the ultimate gift,
God’s gift of Jesus Christ to a world in need, then and now.
When I was a child, I embraced this concept of giving, and was more than happy to do my part to further the concept, as a recipient.
Sure, I enjoyed singing Christmas carols and setting up the manger scene. I especially enjoyed Charlie Brown’s Christmas (and still do!),
and that pivotal moment when the gang is rehearsing the Christmas show, and a frustrated and disillusioned Charlie asks if anybody
can tell him what Christmas is all about, and Linus takes center stage with his blanket in hand, asks for the lights, and recites
from the second chapter of Luke. It is still wonderful no matter how many times I watch it.
But I have to admit that during my younger years my thoughts of Christmas primarily focused upon Santa and the rest of the bounty
that appeared at the base of my family’s Christmas tree every 25th day of December. I suppose that isn’t too unusual. The National
Retail Federation estimates that holiday retail sales in the US in November and December – excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants
– will increase between 3.6 and 4 percent for a total of $678.75 billion to $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion last year. That’s
a lot of money spent on gifts, and no doubt a lot of money spent on advertising designed to convince us consumers to want
more and more things, and to buy more and more things. I know this spending is good for the economy and keeps people
employed, but can it pull us from focusing on God’s gift of Jesus, and our response to this gift?
I’m going to share a short and true story. It’s not a Christmas story, but it is a story about giving so it seems appropriate.
The greater Pittsburgh area awoke on July 20 of this year to learn that an act of vandalism had occurred at Carlow University
in the Oakland part of town. A statue of Jesus that has stood for more than a hundred years at the corner of Robinson Street and
Fifth Avenue had its hands broken off. Those responsible for the vandalism still remain unknown. Good news–last month the masonry
restoration company, Mariani and Richards, repaired the statue at no charge to the university. Jesus got his hands back. One of the
founders of the company, a Josephine Corrado Mariani, was a member of the class of 1938 at Carlow. Her daughter, a
current co-owner of the company, restored the statue in memory of her mother. I’m happy for Carlow that the statue was
restored, though I have to say I sort of wish they would have left it handless. I have the picture of the handless Jesus you see
above posted on my bulletin board in my office. I display it where I am sure to see it for two reasons. First, to remind me that
I can be the hands of Jesus to those in need. Especially during the Christmas season of gift- giving and celebrating God’s
gift of Jesus to all, the image reminds and encourages me to give in the name of Christ what gifts I can to those around me.
The second reason is to remind me to be generous in all circumstances. Mariani and Richards didn’t vandalize the statue.
They didn’t cause the problem. They were not at fault. They were not to blame. Yet, they took responsibility when they saw
“brokenness” and expended their time and resources to meet a need. How willing am I when I see brokenness to take
responsibility and expend my time, energy, and resources to address a problem regardless of whether or not I personally
am to blame? Am I more interested in assessing fault than on alleviating a problem? God help me. Finally, as I consider
this season of giving, expressions of gratitude are in order. On behalf of the mission center presidency team, I’d like to
express our deep appreciation to all the congregations in the mission center. You all give of your time, talents, and
resources to be the body of Christ in the communities where you reside. You do this as individuals and collectively
A big “Thank You” to Denise Hoyt, our Mission Center Invitation Support Minister, to Sandy Davis, our
Administrative Assistant/Communications Coordinator, to current and 2018 members of the Youth Commission and
Temple Grove Board, to Dave Ryhal, Temple Grove Campground Manager and the TG staff, and to all those who
have served at youth retreats and camps, SPEC, women’s retreat, and reunion. A special shout-out to the
Kirtland congregation’s willingness to serve as host during the pastors/leaders retreat, and to those individuals and
congregations, in particular Fayette City, Barberton, Greenwood, and Mon Valley at the time of this writing, who have so
generously supported our World Church in its time of need. Finally, we thank Apostle Lach Mackay, Field Support Minister
and MCFO Dena DeVormer, and President, Sixth Quorum of Seventy John Wight, for their invaluable assistance
throughout the year. May God bless all of us as we follow Christ and serve in His name.
Merry Christmas! – John Spilsbury – MC President