Is it really the thought that counts?

Yesterday was the third Sunday in Advent. Christmas Eve is one week from today. 

I hate to sound cynical but I’m guessing that a lot more time, energy, and money goes toward shopping these next few days than preparation of hearts for the arrival of baby born to impoverished wandering teenage parents. 

To be clear: I know lots of people who love God and follow the way of Jesus who are, people who are deeply and beautifully focused on the poignant power of this holy celebration, people who completely honor the arrival of divine Light in a dark world, people who embrace and cherish Love made flesh, people who weep and rejoice at the reality of  “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” I know many of these people. I worship among them. At my best, I’m one of them.  

I’m just saying that maybe that group is outnumbered by lots more people who like the ideas of family celebrating together and exchanging gifts. And there’s nothing wrong with loving family and friends, nothing wrong with giving and receiving.

All this energy around giving and receiving has got me thinking – again – about the old saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Is it, really? 

My friend Steven, a wise pastor and mentor from way back, challenged this idea a long time ago, and it’s never let me go.

Maybe thoughts aren’t enough.

Maybe, in a world where some families are living in shelters after fires and hurricanes, a gift to Habitat for Humanity would be even better than thoughts and prayers.

Maybe in a world where some individuals are alone and lonely, giving time and presence would be more comforting than thoughts and prayers.

Maybe, in a world where illiteracy still keeps some people from a full life, reading with a child at a school would be better.

Maybe in a city where thousands of women and men and kids are hungry every day, serving a meal and a listening ear would make a difference. 

Maybe, in a world where little children still die from malaria, a generous gift to a relief agency would be better.

Maybe, in a world coming undone environmentally, a gift of time or muscle or money to clean up our water and air would be better.

Maybe in a culture divided by… kinda everything, the gift of listening, speaking with respect, and behaving with compassion rather than judgment would foster a bit of healing.

I know, I know – I’m getting all preachy.

Many years ago now, when my parents and sister and I realized we all had more than we needed of everything, we experimented with a different approach to giving. That year, my folks gave a scholarship, in my “honor”, for a 16 year old girl to participate in a mission week in Mexico. That young woman spent spring break helping to build a house for a desperately poor family – and she realized she had the power to make a concrete difference in someone’s life. She helped change their lives. They helped change her life. And witnessing all that changed my life.

It was a gift that still counts.

The song says “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; Love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.”

Maybe it still can. Something to think about.

Love will be our token,
Love be yours, and love be mine
Love to God and all men – 
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina Rosetti

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