December 13, 2013


Stewardship saves Christmas

During this time of year, which the Church calls Advent but the secular world knows as the pre-Christmas shopping season, Christians experience a profound tension.

The Church urges us to prepare for Christ’s coming again by intensified prayer, fasting and sharing with others. That’s not the message our culture proclaims now.

“Shop till you drop” is what we hear incessantly during this frenzied season, and “beat everyone else in getting the best bargains on the latest gadgets, fashion accessories and status symbols.” No wonder our hearts are troubled more than normally during this erstwhile season of comfort and joy.

Fortunately, there is a way of setting aside the commercial Christmas and not letting it take over this holy time. The best way to save Christmas from the perversions of secularism is by concentrating on basic stewardship principles—gratitude, responsibility, generosity and a willingness to return all God’s gifts with increase.

Gratitude is the soul of stewardship. It is impossible to be overcome with anxiety (or greed) when we are truly thankful. Gratitude focuses our attention on the gifts we already have—not on the things we desire (material or spiritual).

Saying “thank you” draws us outside ourselves and helps to deepen our appreciation for the good things that we have been given by a good and gracious God. Saying “thank you” helps us overcome self-centeredness. It reminds us that we are not self-sufficient or isolated from the human family.

Practice saying “thank you” during this holiday season. You’ll be amazed at how it helps dispel the dark clouds of pre-Christmas gloom.

Responsibility is fundamental to the practice of stewardship. Remember the scene in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where the miserly Scrooge refuses to take responsibility for the poor? He didn’t feel responsible for the needy, for his employee Bob Cratchit and his family, or even for the only family Scrooge had—a nephew and his young wife. Until his conversion, and his willingness to take responsibility for others, Scrooge was unable to enjoy his wealth, status or success. The money he accumulated over many years in business only made him miserable. Taking responsibility for all the gifts God has given us and accepting our role as stewards of all God’s creation—especially our sisters and brothers in Christ—allows us to celebrate Christmas with an open heart.

Generosity is a value that even the secular Christmas recognizes through the value it places on gift giving. But what do we give? Is generosity primarily about buying and giving away material things? Or does it mean something more?

Stewardship teaches the primacy of self-giving. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of someone who gave himself—first and foremost. Christmas invites us to follow his example. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says, “Whether a gift is expensive or cheap matters little; if we have not given a bit of ourselves along with it, any gift we give is too small.”

This Christmas season let’s give “a bit of ourselves”—time, presence, prayer, kindness, laughter, encouragement, etc.—as well as giving the gifts that are placed under the Christmas tree.

The final stewardship principle is “giving back to the Lord with increase.” As we prepare for Christ’s coming again, we should ask ourselves what we have accomplished during the past year? Have we grown personally? Have we made a positive contribution to the world we live in? Have we helped others—in small ways or in large ones? Have we taken God’s many gifts (material and spiritual) and “buried them”? Or have we nurtured, cultivated and grown our gifts, skills, talents and relationships? Can we honestly say we are ready now to return all these gifts to the Lord with increase?

A stewardship Christmas trumps a commercial Christmas every time. Instead of anxiety, hassles, overspending and tension among family members, a stewardship Christmas allows us to experience joy through giving thanks, taking responsibility for others, sharing ourselves with others and giving back God’s gifts with increase. That’s a much better way to spend Christmas.

According to Dickens’ final words about the Scrooge who became a good steward of all his gifts: “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One.”

May we follow this good example this Advent-Christmas season and always.

—Daniel Conway

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