2012 has been a great year of advancement and change for Stewardship. As December draws to an end, I wanted to take a moment to look at the highlights of 2012 and to thank you for journeying with us this year.
In 2013, we’ll be shouting about give.net from the rooftops and looking forward to the third year of 40acts, which looks set to be absolutely brilliant (even if I do say so myself). We’ll also be welcoming Charlie Osewalt to the Stewardship team. Charlie’s job will involve developing and producing resources on generosity, money and stewardship – so watch this space!
As ever, thank you for partnering with us to give and receive. From all of us here at Stewardship, we hope you have a blessed and joyful Christmas, and we look forward to serving you in 2013.
About a week ago I reviewed my finances and realised that this Christmas is going to be very tight. It’s been a mixed year; wonderfully blessed in some areas and terrifically hard in others. C’est la vie. But Christmas is one of those events that I always long to do extravagantly, so the realisation that this year’s budget is practically non-existent was a bit of a shock.
I did what I always do in those kinds of situations: I immediately started to think about all the folk who have it worse off than me. Reminding yourself that there are some people who don’t have a roof, much less a Christmas tree, this time of year is a sure-fire way to gain some perspective. But it didn’t change the state of my bank account or my list of people to give to, and I knew I was going to have to find a way to do Christmas just as generously…but differently.
I love working at Stewardship. I love it because I get to talk about generosity all day long, create websites and communities alongside generous people and generally feel surrounded by positivity. One of the best bits of the year here is Advent, because we spend time sifting through festive stories of generosity for The Christmas Tree. It’s a website entirely dedicated to inspiring a spirit of unpretentious generosity that sometimes gets lost amid the consumerist din. And it’ll probably also make you laugh.
For me, that was the point at which my bleak finances became an opportunity to strip my generosity back to the core. As I was reading through the submissions for The Christmas Tree, I discovered that true joy at Christmas definitely isn’t in what you get, and it’s not even really in what you give: it’s the spirit with which you give it. Consideration, kindness and love count for much more than simply ticking people off of your ‘to buy’ list.
So this year will be a home-made Christmas. I’m sewing things, finger-painting, baking stuff, generally getting my hands dirty. It’s costing me effort and hours, and that feels like more of a worthy price to pay to be honest.
Read and share some inspirational stories of Christmas generosity on The Christmas Tree here.
People do Christmas differently. I, for one, love all of the trimmings, lights and buying thoughtful presents for people I love. But each year I’m becoming more aware of other people’s Christmasses, and how else I can be a blessing to others.
This year, inspired by Operation Christmas Child’s 100 millionth shoebox being sent out, I decided to get involved. It’s been years since I made up a shoebox - and even then, only because my mum thought it would be good for my sister and me to get involved! - but I suddenly had the urge to go out and buy lovely gifts for a little girl who I’d never met. My friend made a shoebox as well, and we both sat on the floor in her lounge, with her young daughter, making up our boxes together and explaining ‘why’ to her excited 3-year-old. The best present in those boxes was definitely the new toy her daughter gave from her own toybox for a child she didn’t know.
It’s too late to make a shoebox now for this year, but another inspiring campaign this Christmas is the one led by Refuge – the charity for women and children, against domestic violence. The charity provides temporary accommodation for women and children who need a refuge from domestic violence. Each year, they make sure every woman and child in their care receives at least one Christmas present. This year, they have a gift list with John Lewis: you can order gifts online, and Refuge will deliver them. Gifts cost between £2.99 and £40, and the gift list closes on December 6. Go to Johnlewisgiftlist.com and enter list number 522953.
It might be that money’s tight and that’s the one thing you can’t give this time of year. The good news is there are lots of alternative ways to bless others at Christmas. You can bake cookies, spend time writing encouraging messages in Christmas cards, invite someone to join you over Christmas, take a friend to a service at church, go carol singing without collecting money, let someone use your home on Christmas day when you’re visiting family... I bet if you spent 10 minutes thinking over a cup of tea, you’d come up with something that would really bless someone you care about.
Lastly, why not check out thechristmastree.org.uk for inspiring stories and heart warming clips to get you in the mood?
The Christmas Tree is an advent gift from Stewardship to you.
Inspired by the tale of two trees; surprise gifts for two unsuspecting families, we offer simple tales of miracles, hope and generosity. We hope to inspire you. To remind you of the wonder of Christmas; a celebration of generosity, of God’s greatest gift to all mankind.
Take a moment to explore our Christmas tree. Play. Sing along. Giggle. Be inspired. Share.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas.
As a mother of four girls I used to look forward to Christmas the same way my mother - also of four children - did: with doom and gloom. Rather than a glorious celebration of family, feasting and fun, all I looked forward to was the endless lists to tick off, novel presents to buy for my ever-growing family and innumerable God-children. Cards, presents, food preparation, decorating the house, let alone fitting in nativity plays, Christmas concerts and church prayer evenings. When did I ever turn into such a scrooge and such a kill joy? It all had something to do with setting my sights on perfection. The perfect day, present, outfit, family gathering, the perfect meal, - oh and let’s not forget the perfect homemade Christmas card. My pursuit of perfection of course never quite happened, and each year I vowed I would start earlier, plan better, buy a bigger freezer perhaps. I had become a slave to the ‘perfect Christmas’.
Last year that all changed. A friend’s husband suffered a critical life changing stroke in early December and it turned their family life upside down: Christmas was put on hold and suddenly the real priorities in life appeared. I was caught up short! I couldn’t believe how my relentless pursuit for a perfect Christmas had so subtlety enslaved me and how I had become so ‘way off the mark’.
Where was my perfection and planning in that nativity scene? Mary and Joseph were refugees, Jesus was born in an animal shed as no hotel room had been booked - there was no forward planning for them! But in all of this God’s glorious generosity was on display, his outpouring love showered upon us, breaking into our world in the form of a helpless babe. It was if the scales fell from my eyes, and instead of looking inwards, I now look outwards and upwards. I still have my lists (I can’t completely abandon to a free-wheeling existence, but perhaps I’ll be persuaded by Advent Conspiracy this year) but now my eyes and my heart are fixed on Christ – God made flesh. That jaw-dropping, miraculous event has become the centre of my preparations and the centre of our Christmas.
Perhaps it is when you hear ‘Slade’ blasting out across the supermarket floor, or when you first pull on that maroon coloured turtle neck sweater. Maybe it is when the Z-list celebrity ('He starred in Doctor Who, he was the guy on the left in the mask, oh, and he was once in Paddington Green, do you remember?’) arrives to switch on the village lights. Maybe it’s when you finally get the tree up and the tinsel on, dreading the following six months of hoovering up pine needles from behind the sofa. Perhaps only Marmite causes as great a war of opinions as the question of when the Christmas season actually begins. ‘Far too soon’, you scrooges out there cry; ‘Not soon enough!’ reply the romantics who have been wearing knitted Rudolf socks since mid-August.
For me, however, Christmas begins when the adverts kick in. No longer is it acceptable to simply add a cheesy Christmas hit to a standard advert in order to sell your Christmas stock, no, it seems inherent now that a Christmas advert must get Mike Tyson reaching for the Kleenex. And when I saw the John Lewis Christmas advert the other week I was suitably impressed. I had heard rumours of grown men reduced to tears in front of their television screens (something unheard of outside of relegation battles, F.A Cup Finals and the odd episode of the X-factor) and it did not disappoint. The advert ends with the tag line ‘For gifts you can’t wait to give’. Ultimate cheese you may say, and you probably have a point, but the adverts message has an echo of something a Nazarene bloke said over 2000 years ago; ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’. This guy was counter-cultural; he turned the world upside-down, everyday thinking turned on its head. Like the advert, with Jesus the ‘ending’ was not what the beginning might have suggested. A new King born ends up dead on a cross, the ultimate sacrifice; the ultimate gift.
Christmas is about generosity; not my generosity, nor yours (and definitely not that of the fat bearded man in the red coat), but the generosity of our God, who sent his only son into our broken world to pay the ultimate price for our sin. Generosity that was not changed despite the full knowledge that his son would be ridiculed and abandoned and the gift would go unappreciated by millions. If that isn’t enough to encourage us to be generous this Christmas then what is?
Debbie Wright is Head of Content at Stewardship. Sam Gibb is our guest author this month: click here to see his bio.
Despite making a conscious effort each year to avoid the Christmas consumer frenzy and keep my mind focused on the real meaning of Christmas, the reality is that it’s very difficult to keep an eye on spending during the festive season. It’s a bit like hoovering up the needles under the Christmas tree, just when you think you’ve finished, more appear!
Even if you rigorously scale down on present giving, only send e-cards, or make all your own decorations, there are plenty of other little extras that can catch you by surprise and eat up your cash.
To avoid being tangled up by unexpected expenditure, why not take some time out over a coffee and review your Christmas spending with the help of our Christmas budget challenge?
There is also another lurking danger which may not be quite so obvious: that faced by the overt message of commercialism we can refuse to participate at all and stifle the Christian message of generosity so apparent in the Christmas story. If you’re in need of an antidote to commercialism or feeling a bit ‘bah humbug’, perhaps take a look at a short clip from Operation Christmas Child following a journey of a shoebox. Volunteering to fill and check boxes is a small act of generosity which happens every year in churches around the UK. Maybe there are similar opportunities near you that might be able to give a little time to?
Giving our time to preparing for Christmas, whether it be planning activities or budgeting spending could help you to maintain a clear head when faced with the seasonal onslaught and give you that important head space to concentrate on the real gift of Christmas – one that never tarnishes, runs out or disappoints.
blogs by the Stewardship team and selected guest writers.