Monday, December 18, 2017

Chestnuts and Scrooge are Christmas Regulars

It was December in Manhattan, and the fragrance of roasted chestnuts mixed with the strains of a brass sextet (the Ljungholm family) playing carols 'round the familiar red kettle of The Salvation Army outside 'Bloomies'. Christmas was in the air. Two incidents pressed home the need for me to reassess the true value of the season.

A major toy manufacturer marketing manager phoned me at home (we lived on the SA building and the corps' phone would ring through). His company was involved in a media marketing blitz, and he wished to donate three recently introduced robots worth "several hundred dollars" . Ideally, he said, we'd like to present them to some children during your Christmas party for the under-privileged... And there was more ! "We'll supply a Santa, bring a well known Hollywood star, currently appearing on Broadway and.... All very heady stuff, however, not so very different from what we experienced fairly regularly, and it only took a few seconds before he added, 'we'll bring some TV network to shoot the gift giving for the evening network news!'

The day of the party came, and it was soon time for the gift-giving. The kids were seated anxiously awaiting Santa. We had made no promise to the assembled kids of special gifts or the visit of a Hollywood star….  And then the time went! 

No toys, no big time movie mogul, no cameras, no nothing! Did I have the wrong time, the wrong date? I checked my calendar and I'd made no mistake. Even though it was now 7:00 pm I tried to reach the toy manufacturer by telephone, but to no avail. Not even voicemail or answering service for me to vent my frustration ! .
The next morning I learned that the Broadway star had become ill and the company, seeing no possibility to profit through free publicity due their 'generosity,' decided it wasn't worth a visit to our simple Christmas celebration. And, they went one step further and informed the networks that the Christmas party was cancelled -------------------

It was Christmas in Europe and World War II raged. Many of those relocated to Displaced Persons Camps benefitted from the kindness expressed sporadically through the arrival and distribution of gifts from unknown donors. With eager anticipation they awaited news about a rumoured shipment of food and clothing from America.

Long before the train arrived the throngs pushed their way to the snow covered rail road yards. The steam from the arriving train could be seen long before the trains arrival at the station. 

The crowd shuffled through the snow and as the heavy box car doors slid open all moved forward eagerly to see what their anonymous benefactors had sent in the name of brotherhood. Would it be blankets, clothing, shoes, food?

Quickly the word spread that one box car was loaded with boxes marked clothing. Those suffering through the winter cold moved anxiously through the box car. There they were, dozens of boxes, all bearing the inprint of a major USA garment manufacturer. The boxes were thrown to the waiting crowd, distributed and ripped open. In the sub zero temperatures of the rail road yard faces froze in disbelief. Each box contained dozens of brand new bow ties!

Two situataions, two distorted views of giving.

Reflecting on the value to the toy manufacturer of the proposed publicity ploy, I doubt that their sales volume would have been significantly affected by joining us for our under- privileged childrens' Christmas Party. Their ads were running daily in every New York newspaper and their robots were seen in almost every store window. I must admit that I paid particular attention to their marketing campaign subsequent to my disappointment, and their real motive for 'giving'.

Is the bow tie incident any different? Is it unreasonable to assume that the donor sought a tax advantage? Most charities can point to similar experiences of 'giving to gain'.

When the giver seeks only gain, all the precious satisfaction of sharing is lost. And, when the gift is witheld because of poor potential for profit, or because of greed or indifference, the potenial donor is the looser.

Today the quality of life is for many measured simply by material gain. Christians however, need to remember that the quality of one's giving affects more than most will ever know, the quality of one's living.

Sven Ljungholm
Birkenhead Central Corps, UK


Paul Collings said...

Thanks Sven for your seasonal thoughts, although I do sometimes wonder if we miss the purpose of Advent confusing the Christmas rush with the contemplative time of considering the One who came, the One who comes and the One who is to come.

Recently, a long established Christian Bookshop in Exeter, UK has closed and I sometimes wonder if I had to anything to do with its demise, by once suggesting to the manager that he should sell a different kind of Advent Calendar.

In the UK, we share the German Lutheran tradition of Advent Calendars where children of all ages open one door each day to receive a chocolate treat. I merely suggested that the bookshop should create calendars with empty compartments into which we place thoughts, gift promises and prayers. Perhaps it did not catch on! Or is it that today's society is actually saying, "It is better to give than receive, as long as I'm still on the receiving end.”

Advent has been defined as "The arrival, coming, or discovery of something, especially something extremely important."

Perhaps we also need to rediscover the advent of Jesus return.

Some years ago, I wrote a musical called 'Daystar' that explored the essence the Coming of Jesus. In it a time traveller looks for the coming Christ and arrives at the manager having also had a vision of Calvary.

As he kneels he speaks

His the gift of bitter pain,
A pain so deep that speaks my name.
A gruesome hurt of human shame;
Impaled within his form my name.
O infant now, how can you bear?
This awful pain; why do you care?

He takes from me that selfish greed
And with his bread the crowds he feeds.
He takes from me my selfish pride;
Transform it now, a seekers guide.
O infant child within the hay,
Where is the life, the truth the way?

His gifts of time, of love, his wealth,
His patience long, that wills my health
Is but a part of God's good grace
That saves transforms our fallen race.
O Holy child within the hay
Will you for me meet death's dark day?

What sin, what guilt do I now bring?
What hurt, what pain, what shameful thing
Do I before his throne now fling?
Love in exchange he's offering.
O Saving child within the hay,
Change my dark night into your day.

O Holy infant gift, I pray,
For me, when comes my newborn day?
When will sin's power within my life
Release its grip and end its strife?
O Calv'ry child within the hay,
Arise, be born in me today.

(c) 1988 Rev'd Paul Collings BTh

Sven Ljungholm said...

Thank you Paul... I'm just polishing my meditation for tomorrow's Community Carol Sing, my first in the UK. My theme is ' the One who came, the One who comes and the One who is to come.'

The Swedish Advent calendar differs a bit from yours as each day the windows open to reveal a Bible verse or line from a Carol all heralding the arrival of a King !

Wonderful poem, Paul ! Thank you... Happy Christ Mass.

Anonymous said...

How hard it is for us to get the balance in the eyes of none Christians. I was in town today and saw a group of Christians holding an open-air meeting outside of their church. As I dashed past on the otherside I could hear a lady speaking through the PA saying: 'At the end of Christmas we will stand on the scales and discover we have put two stone on ... receive our credit card bills and find ourselves $4,000 in debt ... maybe Christmas isn't such a good idea afterall. I am sure she was trying to get the 'real meaning' of Christmas across but that is all I heard apart from two women at the side of me who went on to say ... 'For goodness sake, you would think these Christians would be pleased we are celebrating Christmas ... they would complain if we didn't!!!'

Love your idea for an advent calendar ... did you use it with your children? Could well be introduced to Sunday School.

Sven Ljungholm said...

Yes, we incorporated the Advent calendar and I translated from the Swedish... and a few years ago introduced the grandchildren to the Swedish calendar and language as well... GLAD JUL !!!

jeff said...

today as I stood playing my horn on kettles, at Walmart in impoverished Biddeford, Maine, I witnessed time and time again little tiny children being taught to give. There stood a small child, barely able to hold the handful of change given them by their parents and every one dropped each coin into the pot one by one as many stood waiting patiently in line to partake of this wonder. Each time, I would have to stop playing to witness this gift of children being taught to give. And I was certain God also stopped what he was doing to watch with a great smile of love. There was no where else in the entire universe I would have rather been.