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Christmas Is an Action

How to pay it forward during the holidays.

“Human benevolence is mingled with vanity, interest or some other motive.” —Mark Twain

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” —Mahatma Gandhi

I study commercials, watching the interaction of the actors and actresses, the focus of the message, the humor, the drama and the stupidity. The result is simple: selling products or services. From time to time, though, a spot captures my attention. In fact, my interest currently targets an insurance company campaign. As the advertisement unfolds, a citizen shows another a good deed, an act of hospitality, safety or kindness. The camera focuses on the simple act and then turns to someone else, an unknown stranger watching the gesture from close proximity. In the next shot, the previous bystander decides to be gracious to another. This process is repeated multiple times. The commercial closes with this tagline: “When it’s people who do the right thing, they call it being responsible; when it’s an insurance company, they call it [the name of the company].”

I’m having difficulty reconciling responsibility with generosity: Is this the basis of kindness? Or does it run deeper? Does it thread humanity together?

People pray to God with noble intentions, asking for His continued intervention. Removing poverty, ushering peace, clothing the poor and bringing nourishment to the famished are petitions uttered on a global scale.

In the Scriptures, a narrative unfolds around Jesus. He is finished with His teaching for the day, and the people are becoming hungry. The disciples ask Him to send the people to the villages for food. But the answer from the Teacher is surprising: “You give them something to eat.” Befuddled, the disciples wonder how they will feed the large crowd. So, Jesus takes what is available—five cakes of bread and two fish—and gives thanks. The people eat well, and leftovers are collected.

I have always noticed the Scriptures state that 5,000 eat on this day. But 5,000 is the number of men. And since families are with the men, 10,000-12,000 is likely. Jesus likes to challenge people who ask for His exclusive direction. His reply is simple: Take what you have available and create change.

This “create change” mentality brings a certain movie to mind. Pay It Forward, directed by Mimi Leder, is a film I consistently reference. Trevor McKinney, like Anne Frank, believes in the goodness of humanity. He decides to undertake a project of repaying kindness forward. Therein lies the caveat—the oddity of the task. When people show others kindness, they are surprised—dare I say, shocked.

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Why is this? The West is underscored by a foundation of individuality. People are resources to achieve objectives, tools for personal gain, disposed of when they are unneeded. Is this picture harsh or a vision of reality? When charity is shared, the recipient feels obligated to return the favor. They cannot lose the sense of debt, the give-and-take relationship which ebbs and flows in society.

The church I attend is deciding to show kindness in the county it resides in. The series title captures the thought well: “Random Acts of Christmas.” The series is built on a foundation with deep roots—a mindset of service. We are giving ourselves away. This Christmas season the church community is showing kindness to complete strangers; the catch is very simple: Pay it forward and nominate someone truly in need this season. Groceries for a year, gas for a year, a college scholarship and two cars are part of the list being given away to families. Why is a church willing to do this? Why are people willing to do this? Perhaps Paul really did get it right when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Paul references his life as a “drink offering, poured out in the service of others.” Genuine benevolence a is drink offering. Even Jesus, executed as a radical revolutionary by religious leaders, literally emptied His life for others. Kindness and charity are replenished through solitude, through personal cost, through meditation, through friends.

So when the Christmas season has passed and March 22 arrives, when it is simply another day at work, in school, at lunch, in front of the computer, the television, remember to raise a glass for giving yourself away for others year-round. Why? Love for all.

Then simply empty the cup and start over.

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