We've reached another December. Time for Ho! Ho! Ho!, tinsel and toys, wrappings and wreaths, gifts and goodies, lights and laughter, trees and trimmings, and on and on, ad infinitum. Personally, I enjoy December and particularly the Christmas season because I like to decorate the house, entertain guests and be entertained. But I often ask myself, as a Christian, what it means to celebrate the birth of Jesus that happened historically so long ago.
While ruminating on the coming of Christmas 2014, I came across one of my Christmas albums of songs by the Vienna Boys Choir that is accompanied by a booklet of stories, poems, games and recipes. One of the stories is an adaptation of a story from McGuffey's Third Eclectic Reader titled "The Little Loaf." By the way, McGuffey Readers, textbooks for teaching reading that were used in American schools from the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century, are still sold.
The adaptation of the McGuffey story in the Christmas album sets the story at Christmas; McGuffey had simply set the story in a time of famine. In both stories, a rich baker invites the poor children to come to his shop, take a loaf from his basket, and return every day until "God sends us better times." As the story goes, the hungry children quarreled over the bread, each one trying to get the largest loaf. One little girl hung back and when the poorly behaved children left, she took the only loaf that was left — naturally the smallest. The next day the children returned, each vying for the largest loaf. This time, the timid girl received a loaf half the size of the day before. When her mother cut open the bread, out rolled shiny pieces of silver, which her mother quickly admonished her to return to the baker for fear of reprisal. The baker, it turns out, was rewarding the young girl for being "contented, peaceable and grateful." In a time of turmoil, the baker saved many from disaster and was kindly disposed to one little girl in particular. Because he had much, he gave much.
Our present world is also in turmoil: ISIS crisis, Ebola, rockets exploding, parents murdering their children, more school shootings, mayhem of one sort or another — certainly nothing new when we look back to Dec. 7, 1941, and almost any other time in history. Even in the time of the first Christmas and the birth of the baby Jesus, the Roman Empire dominated unmercifully the lives of many. The message of that first Christmas was that the Christ child came to save.
True to McGuffey's moral and spiritual education in his Readers, the meaning of Christmas for me, and I hope for others too, is that we who are so blessed should give until our gifts help save people who are lost without them, the deserving and undeserving. Those gifts can provide food for the hungry, medicine and aids for the sick and disabled, clothing and shelter for the disadvantaged by war and disaster, and whatever else that may be needed to help save.