December 14, 2011

Celebrating With Compassion

As Christmas approaches, conversations like this one are taking place in thousands of homes across North America.
Mother: “It seems that every year our family Christmas list gets longer and it’s harder to find the right presents for everyone. Last year we got an iPad for your father and a smartphone for your brother. Your sister’s twins are getting older. Do you think video games would be good for them? And how do you shop for cousin Susie, who has everything?”
Daughter: “Maybe we can give Dad a big-screen TV so he can watch the football games. Let’s get my brother a satellite radio for his new car. I’m sure the twins could use a brand-new wardrobe. Next year we can get them a PlayStation or Xbox. For cousin Susie? Let’s send her on a Hawaiian vacation.”

It’s that time of the year when families, friends, and colleagues are planning holiday happenings. They’re planning gift lists, family gatherings, candlelight services, office celebrations, Christmas pageants, Hanukkah festivities, New Year’s Eve parties, or Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year’s) celebrations.
2011 1535 page6College students are booking their flights or loading up their cars for a long trek home. Children are rehearsing their parts for the school Christmas play or the church cantata. Millions of people are trekking through crowded shopping malls to find the perfect gift for family members and loved ones.
According to the National Retail Federation, holiday shoppers will spend an estimated $465 billion on gifts, decorations, greeting cards, food, and flowers this November and December. The average shopper will spend an estimated $704 on gifts for friends, family members, coworkers, and pets.
The holidays are truly a time for family get-togethers, a time to make memories. They are a time to celebrate God’s bountiful blessings. However, for the growing number of disadvantaged families in North America, the holidays bring devastating sadness and despair. Consider the following statistics:
1. In 2010, 46.2 million people, or 15 percent of all U.S. citizens, were living in poverty. That’s the highest number recorded in 52 years.1
Since 2007 the median income of American families has plunged by 6.4 percent, throwing many college-educated, former middle-class workers, and homeowners into poverty.2
For Blacks and Hispanics the poverty rate was 27.4 percent and 26.6 percent, respectively.3
4. In 2009 (the latest available data) the estimated homeless population totaled 656,129, or 21 for every 10,000 persons.4
While the holidays are a wonderful time of celebration, they also present a wonderful opportunity for ministry. For example, as families shop for Christmas presents, simply buy an extra gift—a toy or clothing—to donate to the local homeless shelter or Adventist Community Services center.
Many homeless shelters accept cash donations as well as food and toys for Christmas baskets. They often reach out to the community and find families that need assistance.
In addition to gifts, your time is always needed at nursing homes, hospitals, assisted-living centers, youth centers, or shelters. Many such agencies rely heavily on volunteers to augment their staffing needs. Even your presence can be an encouragement to those in need.
There are many creative ways to bring love and joy to those in need during the holidays and throughout the year. It’s our duty as Christians to share God‘s love and compassion with others.
As Jesus says: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40, KJV).
Let’s celebrate with compassion.
1 U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010, p. 14.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4National Alliance to End Homelessness, State of Homelessness in America, January 2011, p. 4.

Carlos Medley is the online editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published December 15, 2011.