During this time of year - true, some now labor to label it 'correctly' - most of us give more consideration to those we would call 'the least of these' than we might otherwise do. Such commendable conduct is in keeping with the spirit of 'the season.'
Even those who eschew calling it Christmas intrinsically understand it to be linked with a spirit of giving - and of peace, both in the soul and among neighbors.
It is not the serendipity of getting tax breaks (while they can still be had) for charitable contributions that drives most of us with the means to do so to give something to help alleviate the burdens of the poor and misfortunate. Indeed, many fully understand such compassion to be a Christian mandate. To disregard it is to turn a blind eye, in actuality, to our Savior: '... whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me' (Matthew 25:45).
How many of us ever stop to think of how the entire world's population consists of 'the least of these'? Yes, that's you and me, in one very particular sense.
I used to think Jesus Christ's first Beatitude from his famed Sermon on the Mount - 'Blessed are the poor in spirit ...' - applied to the depressed, the oppressed, the misunderstood, the forgotten. After all, these were the people Jesus championed during his sojourn on the earth. Today, we have an entire theology built around 'social justice' for the impoverished and distressed, even though the world possesses the collective means to virtually eliminate tangible poverty.
It was the timeless teaching of early 20th-Century Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers that first got me to open my eyes to what it truly means to be poor in spirit. Said Chambers, 'If I know I have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says, 'Blessed are you,' because it is through this poverty that I enter his kingdom.'
When we come to the end of ourselves - a euphemism for realizing the limitations of self-sufficiency - then and only then do we ask, 'Is there not something more?' Who is there to answer but God, himself? Spiritual poverty is the only entry point into the riches of eternity.
At the most famous point in history God answered resoundingly, 'Yes, there is much more!' He shed his royal robes and brought the threshold of heaven to earth in the form of a naked baby, miraculously conceived and born in the humblest of places. We call it the Nativity. Remembrances of it are widely banned from public display today. Its simple power - completed through this same Christ dying naked on a cross, yet living again - is forgotten by many.
'Blessed are the poor in spirit. ...' Christmas hymns sing it. The Gospels proclaim it: 'And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.' 'Come to me. ... Take my yoke upon you. ... Learn from me. ... Seek and you will find.'
Find what? 'Rest for your souls.' Life itself. '... for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'
Is there any among us whose soul is not restless at some time? Is there any among us who has not been so impoverished in spirit as to be 'dead,' able only to be restored to life through the touch of the savior whose life was given to ransom ours? No, not one.
Every year, during December, the world opens itself anew to the possibility of redemption. This year, as we give that last charitable gift, as we hurriedly dash off that last check, may we remember that the one in receipt of the charity just might be richer than the one doing the giving.
Debbie Thurman, author and award-winning columnist, writes from Monroe, Va.