I remember my children’s kindergarten checklist of social behaviors like it was yesterday. It dominated their early education experience, looming large on a poster in the classroom, showing up again on the year end report card. On the home front, behavioral goals were stated in a variety of expressions, over and over and over again. (If I only had a nickel for every time we instructed our kids: Say please. Don’t forget to say thank you. Yes, you have to share the Hello Kitty Play House.)
Now it’s Christmas, and we’re reminded once again by our surrogate parents commercialism and social media to be kind to fellow humans and share well with others. ‘Tis the season for sharing to take center stage through gift giving, cookie exchanges, holiday meals, and random acts of goodwill toward men. Advertisements tout sharing at its finest, with a message to buy buy buy, give give give, so we can show friends and family what wonderful people we are. Aren’t we good sharers, we secretly exclaim. At Christmas time, we ace the kindergarten checklist.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think setting a specific time to be “shareful” is a positive thing. I am a proud, honor roll student of sharing. I delight in giving gifts, making food for others, inviting friends over to deck the halls with the best of pinterest. I find great joy in hunting for special treasures to bless loved ones.
Most importantly, I love celebrating Jesus and sharing His love.
But when we make sharing Jesus seasonal, we miss the lesson of long ago. Mrs. Orians, my children’s kindergarten teacher, got it right. The checklist stayed taped to the classroom wall all year long. When the boxes of kindness, love, peace, and sharing were checked for the day, the list stayed in its place to be checked off the next day and the day after, and the day after that. In our humanness we need reminders every second of every day.
In our richness, we easily forget to be sharers of Jesus’ love. In our churches, we get comfy with the familiar and content with the warmth of those around us. We forget that people are literally and figuratively out in the cold. We need to be reminded to share the wealth of the compassion of Jesus.
I think it’s easy to forget that Jesus himself, not Christmas time, is The Reminder. Jesus, the Word in the flesh, speaks emphatically to Christmas Christians. Blessed are those who retreat from riches to a posture of humbled hearts. Woe to the wealthy and powerful who lack this understanding.
In the fa la la of carol singing, we delegate the serious stuff of Jesus to the last refrain, if even that.
My Advent readings this Christmas are from Essential Writings, selections from books and lectures by Jean Vanier. Vanier chose to take up residence with a marginalized population, poor in spirit due to mental illness and physical disabilities. I do not relate to this. I am rich in many things and in many ways. Living with the most vulnerable of society is not in my plans. Yet, Vanier pushes me to at least share well with others, beyond a cushy Christmas commitment. Through Vanier’s work, I get a glimpse of what that looks like.
In his book, Be Not Afraid, Vanier quotes Jesus from the book of Luke and then follows it up with a few challenging statements of his own.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25)
Vanier adds: The rich man is rich precisely because he does not know how to give, because he does not know how to share. If he had known how to share he wouldn’t be rich any longer. He who has shut himself into a world of defensiveness and pride cannot enter into the kingdom of sharing. The key to the kingdom is openness, the place of peace, and of giving.
At sixty-one I’m like that five year old kindergartner, still learning how to share. Does defensiveness trip me up? Does pride get in the way? Am I closed off to others that need Jesus, or am I open?
I get the gift giving part. But the kind of sharing Jesus commands requires a lifelong learner.