Every month in my column “How to Use This Issue” I suggest ways readers can use that month’s issue to reflect, discuss or act based on the stories shared within. As managing editor of response, writing this column is one of my favorite tasks. A spiritual practice.
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How to Use This Issue
Happy December! It’s time to prepare for Christmas!
Be honest—when you heard “prepare for Christmas,” what did it make you think? Of the presents you need to buy? The travel plans you need to make? The Elf on the Shelf you forgot to move? Those of us with the privilege to have these worries often allow them to define our Christmas; these are tasks to be done to prepare for Christmas. But, of course, I’m speaking here instead of Advent. December is time for us to prepare our hearts for new compassion, our minds for new ways of thinking and our souls to accept the presence of God among us.
I’m not going to use this space to preach to you about “the real meaning of Christmas” or scold you for making too many Christmas cookies (but I may scold you for not sending me any). It’s hard to find balance among the mixed messages this time of year. Christmas isn’t really about gift-giving, you may hear, but be sure to donate toys to the toy drive! The holidays are a time to think of the most marginalized, but keep your mouth shut at Christmas dinner when a family member makes sexist comments or racist jokes. I won’t tell you what the real meaning of Christmas is because I don’t know. I’m still learning. What does Christmas truly mean to you? This issue may help you define or redefine it.
J. Ann Craig’s Bible study is a good place to start in thinking about what Christmas can mean in the grand scheme of making the world a place in which all people thrive, a place where God lives among us. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth makes for cute children’s pageants—shepherds, wise men, animals, a baby, a beautiful star—but the problem is, as adults we don’t seem to dig much deeper into the Christmas story. Ms. Craig’s study will help you.
This issue also includes the list of 2014 Reading Program books. Pick a book or two and make reading part of your Christmas preparations. Host a reading group. Many of the books are also available as audiobooks that you can listen to while wrapping gifts, talking a walk or making those Christmas cookies you’re going to send me.
Christ was born not just as new life but to give new life. What can you do in a new way this month? If you need inspiration, read “Forever Called” by Richard Lord on pages 17-19 and read about how Esther Megill, retired missionary, has expanded her outreach methods to include social media. It helps keep her connected to projects and people she may not otherwise be a part of. Is this the month you explore Facebook or Twitter? Maybe start sharing United Methodist Women stories on Pinterest? Use technology for good! Maybe, like Magdalena Bita in Paul Jeffrey’s story “Women Face the Challenge of South Sudan” on pages 28-33, you hear God calling you to not only contact government representatives but become a government representative. Can you imagine more United Methodist Women members in public office? What a different world could be possible!
As you reflect on Christ’s birth to an unwed mother, on the family who lived as migrants, on the man who discomforted the comfortable, think about those today in similar situations and make sure you treat them as you’d treat Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The miracle of Christ’s birth is not just that he was born, but that he lived.