One late Christmas Eve now many years ago, Sally and I stood gazing at our beautiful Christmas tree. It was all lit up with a gold star on top and numerous ornaments below leading down to a manger scene at the base of the tree.
The star, to us, has long been a reminder of God the Father looking down from heaven with great expectation, awaiting the human incarnation of the Son. Not too long before that, the Father and the Son had been together in Glory. And then, the ultimate gift was made, and the Son humbled himself to become the Redeemer we could experience ourselves. Oh, Holy Night!
As we looked at that reality from the star on our tree to the baby Jesus down low, we observed the pile of presents stacked high around the tree with our boys’ names on them. We thought about our three sons and how much we loved them … and how they were taking us for all they could get!
Sally and I were somehow prompted to remember that, when this baby Jesus grew up, he exhorted us not only to love him, but to love our neighbor as ourselves. That led to this idea: If we loved our neighbor as we loved our boys, then maybe our neighbor should receive gifts under our tree as well.
That commenced a Bennett tradition of contributing “neighbor” gifts into our boys’ NCF Giving Funds. The neighbor gift is a monetary donation that we make into their Fund that they can give away to causes and charities as they choose. We wrap little packages for each of our boys and their families with little notes confirming the gifts, and we label them as “Neighbor Gift.” Then, at Easter, we sit together with our boys – and now their families too – and they explain what they’ve done with their neighbor gift since Christmas.
For Sally and me, these “neighbor” gifts are the favorite gifts we give all year. And, while the littlest grandkids remain very much focused on tearing packages open, the older ones – and their moms and dads –pause for a moment and think about the star and the manger and where they’re going to give.
This Christmas, the Bennett family encourages you to look at that star over Bethlehem and see a Father looking down in love to his transformed Son. And then, remember that the Son encourages us to love our neighbor as we love our own.
Our neighbors are those we encounter daily, who are in need. They need a kind word, a hug, a smile, a connection, forgiveness, trust, or a generous gift. It is human nature to keep our eyes on our own needs, our wants, our desires, and our little world. God’s bigger picture and plan is for us to love others beyond our own comfort and cares.
Who is your neighbor?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
– Mark 12:30-31
Prayer: Lord, during the holidays, while we are enjoying our families, let us remember our neighbors and love them the way you have called us to. As you guided shepherds and magi by a star, guide us, too, by showing us how you are calling us to show our neighbors your love.
Application: Who needs you to be a neighbor?
Read more: Luke 2:8-20, Matthew 2:1-12