In most church lectionaries (a list of various portions of Scripture arranged by theme for reading within churches) the reading from the epistles for Christmas is from Paul’s letter to Titus, chapter 2, verses 11-14:
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Notice the straightforward flow of Paul’s presentation: Grace appeared through Christ to bring salvation to all who would believe, to make a holy people, awaiting his “advent.” And while we wait, we are to be a people zealous for good works. May God’s gift of Jesus Christ so stir you and your family this Christmas and into the new year that you are eager to serve others with grace and joy.
It is in this theme that I am so grateful to share with you two stories of joy shared with the completion of our annual Giving Tree project. Thanks to the incredible generosity and good works of our body, we were able to deliver gifts, hope, and Christ’s love to 3 families in great need from the Richland Elementary School in our neighborhood. Keith Mason and Kari Jane Smith’s accounts of their experiences are included so that you too may share in the joy of this project.
[From Keith Mason – Youth Pastor]
Last week I had the opportunity to do one of my favorite things of the year: deliver our Giving Tree gifts. Thanks to the generosity of the TFC community we were able to give bags and bags full of Christmas gifts to some new friends in need. It’s hard to imagine people in such need just a few blocks from the church. They didn’t even have pillows. However, each mom I met was striving to care for her family. One mother of a special needs child told us the story of being given this child when he was only three months old. She has sacrificed to raise him as her own for thirteen years. It helped put our giving in perspective.
Another mom we met told us the story of losing her job this past month. She told us how she had worked odd jobs, one after the other for years to provide for her family. As we brought in the gifts her eyes filled with tears. She was overwhelmed by grace. This was going to be a difficult Christmas for them, but now our unexpected generosity changed things. Her tears of joy had a big impact on me. There’s only been a few times in my life when I’ve been overcome with tears of joy. I want to be overwhelmed by His grace. What I’m asking for this Christmas is for Christ’s unexpected generosity to change things. Change my heart – that I might have tears of joy.
[From Kari Jane Smith- Director of Children’s Ministry]
She rang the church doorbell shyly and waited. I knew she was coming and wanted to ease her discomfort, so I ran down the hall and around the corner to welcome her. She was not alone…a hesitant child clung to her hand and looked up at me with eyes as big as saucers! What to say?
“I am so glad you are here…come…let me show you what our friends (that is you all) want to give you today!”
“So many friends and so many presents…look!”
Quiet and unsure…they both follow me to the shinning tree and must be wondering how it is that they are here in a church and about to receive more than they see. What to say?
“This…this is for you, D’Juan…and for your sister Natalia. And what does this name tag say? And this one? And this one? And look, this one says, “for D’Juan’s mom!”
Smiles and tears cannot be held back anymore….Cherry Hanes is walking towards Mom and a warm hug is offered with prayers.
“God loves you so much! He is with you. You are not alone. You need to know that…”
Christmas is here…right here. Hope is here. Mom tells us she was just laid off and her children knew that there would be no tree or presents or stockings for Christmas this year. God surprised her with hope.
If you are reading this, you are part of that hope!
As we load her up with food, gifts, and hope, I ask if she has a church family. I encourage her to come for Christmas Eve services. Everyone gathers and smiles for a photo and one more hug. A hesitant child and shy Mom say thank you over and over, and drive away full with so much more than they can see. Hope-full!