The Advent Journey: Day 12

My home page on my laptop is BBC news, and this morning, the first thing I saw, as I sipped hot coffee and cuddled under a warm blanket, was that Syrian refugees along the Syria-Lebanon border are living in makeshift camps, unable to form more formal camps, and they are burning their shoes to survive the harsh winter.  This is not just a news story to read and move on from…these are human beings, children of God, and this is how they are living.  As we enter the season of gift giving and receiving, it’s important to remember them.  Today’s post will highlight ways we can give gifts that impact the world and our communities in powerful ways, instead of buying someone just another pair of socks.  What a message it sends, to children and adults alike, if we give being mindful of those who suffer the injustices of poverty, hunger and isolation.  If you’d like to give to support refugees in Syria, here is a good place to start.  The rest of these resources are from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   They give helpful ideas for how to give gifts that are personal and meaningful, as well as transformative and far-reaching.  Let’s give thoughtfully and compassionately this Christmas season.  (Prepare yourself…there are a lot of links ahead!)

The Magi traveled a long distance to bring gifts to Jesus. Their gifts were items of value that honored the child and provided for the family. Today we are bombarded with messages of extravagance during the holiday season, and gift giving can be a tricky topic for many. Like the Magi, we, too, can try to find gifts that honor our loved ones, while also honoring Christ and remembering why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. Jesus and his family were poor. Christ was born in a manger surrounded by hay and animals.

It can be difficult to find the balance between honoring your loved ones with the latest thing and honoring the Christ to whom we strive to be faithful. Giving alternative gifts can be fun and uplifting if it is done in the spirit of love; however, if you are too aggressive or overbearing, your gift may not be well received. Take it slow and meet people where they are. Embody Christ in your giving and receiving this season. Gifts that honor Jesus are those that reflect God’s presence with us. Christ’s ministry reminds us that we are not to seek treasures on earth, but to build up our treasures in heaven. When you give, let the scriptures be your inspiration and give thoughtfully, with justice, kindness and humility.

Gifts of time and service

Gifts of time and service can be quite memorable. These gifts require thoughtful preparation and help build relational bonds. Sharing the gifts God has given you through service and teaching honors God and blesses others.

  • Skills: If you are gifted with crafts, music, dance or other talents, give the gift of knowledge. Gifting a series of lessons empowers the people you love with new skills and abilities, while passing on some tradition and heritage.
  • Games: You can give board games or a deck of cards with a promise to play. Teaching a new card game to a child or adult is a lasting gift.
  • Meals: Give the promise of food and meals to people on your list. Promising to eat lunch with your children at their school once a month is a great way to spend more time with family.
  • Homemade Gifts: Knitted items, framed photos, handcrafted toys, works of art and other personally made gifts show care and concern for the recipient. These gifts require time and thought to create.
  • Commitment: Make a commitment to someone this season. Find ways to serve the people on your list by committing to care for them. You can shovel snow, prepare meals, plan events or schedule a vacation.

Gifts of giving

Give gifts that honor God by supporting church ministries through alternative giving. You can provide a donation to honor someone on your list.

  • The Presbyterian Small Farmer Fund supports fair trade and organic farming throughout the world. Producer groups apply to the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Equal Exchange supports the fund with donations each year based on volume of sales from the Presbyterian Coffee Project. Individuals and congregations can also give to the fund.
  • Give to Enough for Everyone. Support the church’s ministry of lifestyle integrity (and the creation of materials such as this one) by donating online.
  • Give to the Presbyterian Hunger Program, make an additional gift to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering or support the Christmas Joy Offering.
  • Microcredit loans provide people with opportunities to develop their communities. Learn more about microcredit and investing in Oikocredit.

Gifts of membership

Providing a gift that gives throughout the year shows your commitment to the recipient. Memberships are great gifts for people who have seemingly everything.

  • Give or renew a membership. Discover the clubs and organizations to which the people on your Christmas list belong and sponsor their membership for the year.
  • The gift of health. Instead of waiting for New Year’s Resolutions, give the gift of a gym membership along with a shared commitment to health. You and your loved one can enjoy time together in the gym.
  • Magazines, journals and electronic subscriptions: Many publications have subscription fees, which make great gift ideas. Each month the recipient will be reminded of your generosity.

Fair trade gifts

God’s call to live our lives justly can take many forms. By being intentional with our spending we can share the blessings of prosperity while sharing our Christian call. Selecting fair trade products and avoiding sweatshop labor in your gifting celebrates God’s call to liberate the oppressed and to set captives free. Fair Trade options are not limited to coffee. Many items that you might give as gifts for Christmas can be found fair trade, which means that you will not be giving gifts made with slave or child labor and you will know that the people who worked hard making the products are being paid a wage they can live on.

  • Coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate and snacks. The Presbyterian Coffee Project offers a variety of items to fill a holiday gift basket with fair trade goodies. You could whip up a batch of homemade marshmallows and create a memorable hot chocolate gift basket!
  • Sports equipment. Fair Trade Sports offers a wide variety of sports equipment for the sports enthusiast on your list. Their products are produced by adult workers who are fairly paid and many products are made from sustainably harvested organic rubber.
  • Buy American. Products made in the United States are less likely to be made under poor conditions or forced labor. Local toy shops can be great finds for wooden toys like blocks and trains. U.S. Made Toys can provide you with information on toys that are still made in the United States.
  • Go global. Purchase fairly traded gifts from one of the PC(USA) Global Marketplace partners. Your gift will support the self-development of people throughout the world.
  • Try to avoid sweatshops. While it may not be possible to satisfy everyone on your list with the above recommendations, you can find ways to be more responsible in giving by avoiding sweatshop labor. The2008 sweat free shopping guide is a great resource for sweat shop free products. Avoiding the producers in the Hall of Shame will also help to prevent some of the worst offenders from making it under your tree this season.
  • Season tickets to the theater or other arts, sporting events or memberships to museums or science centers can be fun for all.

Eco-friendly gifts

Throughout the scriptures we are reminded of God’s deep connection with us and our world. Sustaining life on the planet requires us to sustain the earth. In caring for the earth we are caring for all of God’s children and sustaining the diversity of created life. Many gifts can be environmentally responsible and support your concerns for the earth. These gifts can also serve as a way of teaching people to care for creation and one another. Eco-friendly gifts may help others to see God in new ways as one who cares about the world and all its people.

  • Trees, plants and landscaping. If you have a green thumb or a gift for gardening, you can give out gifts of future promise. Providing seeds or cuttings from your own garden, teaching someone to garden, helping someone plan a garden or planting a tree together are all great gifts.
  • CFLs or LEDs. It can be a little expensive to fit a whole house with Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) or Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) but the electricity savings will quickly offset these initial costs. Each month your loved ones will thank you as they pay lower electric bills and accumulate savings.
  • Water bottles. The consumption of bottled water has huge environmental and humanitarian impacts. Providing someone you love with a reusable water bottle and possibly a water filter can prevent hundreds of flimsy plastic bottles from ending up in landfills. Drinking tap water helps prevent the privatization of water, which helps ensure enough water for everyone. Reusable bottles save oil and energy from being consumed in the production of new bottles. For more information on bottled water and its impact look into the Think Outside the Bottle Campaign.  Sign the pledge yourself and include a copy for your loved one with your gift.
  • Carbon offsets. Offsets provide a great way to give back through the planting of trees and development of new “green” technologies. TerraPass offers a number of ways to calculate and customize a carbon offset for each person on your list. For other options on carbon offsets and green tags visit The Center for a New American Dream.
  • Reusable gift packaging. Minimize the impact that your gifts will have on local landfills by packaging them in reusable or biodegradable packaging. Consider using a gift bag or a gift basket. Wrapping gifts in blankets or table linens create practical and reusable packaging options. The possibilities are endless. Be creative and minimize your impact.
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