Christmas week, 2009. At our house, and many of yours, red and green trappings of the season have appeared and some furniture has disappeared, replaced by the seasonal tree. Has it really been a whole year since we did this?

Yes, Virginia, it has. And what 12 months they have been!

It’s safe to say none of us have slipped through 2009 without being affected by the economic and social events of each day. We’re all, at this Christmastide, in a different place than a year ago. For many, things are not as comfortable or as predictable as they were last Christmas.

Still, as you walk through stores in our fine Oregon community, things look familiar. All are stocked to the eaves with the usual merchandise. Clerks stand ready to help. The same carols are heard on the piped music. Decorations … some new … some old … help to fill our senses with the knowledge that it’s Christmas.

An evening tour around town shows some homeowners have added to their outside decorations. Cars still line up at the Festival of Lights. Even some of the 18-wheelers on the Interstate sport additional lights to remind us.

Yet, a closer examination shows other indications of late December’s conditions. Food pantries … all of them … are straining to meet much higher demand for basic staples. Churches are asking members for more donations of cash or food to help meet the need.

Missions and other temporary housing spots are doing all they can to meet the higher number needing shelter. Sure, some of that has to do with our recent cold snap. But while those temperatures are gone, a lot of the people aren’t.

It’s purely my own observation, but it seems there aren’t as many Christmas trees lighted in homes in the neighborhoods we drive through. In fact, some homes aren’t even occupied as they were a year ago. There are dark spots along some of our streets where there used to be light in the evenings. Where there used to be people.

I’m told by employees in some local stores that, while people are continuing to shop, more are buying with cash and not credit. Many purchases for gifting appear to be more carefully made and many are more utilitarian than in recent Christmases. There will be presents under the trees but, in many homes, they’ll be less of the extra things and more of the essentials.

Given local high unemployment (12%+) and with many having less disposable income, all of these things are to be expected. It would be foolish, considering so much economic turmoil in the last 12 months, to expect conditions to be much different.

But it’s Christmas. Christmas, 2009. Our lives, our incomes and our resources may have changed in the last year. But the reason for Christmas 2009, is the same as it’s always been. While we all know that, maybe this year we need an extra reminder. Maybe just a bit more push to get into the season.

Some of the push for Barb and I will come from something we started last year when we decided to forego presents for our extended family. Our “kids” are in their 40’s and 50’s; grandkids are all teens. Oh, there’ll be some small, mostly homemade remembrances made with love. But dollars that would have gone for some superfluous extras will go to local food banks instead. They understand. They approve.

We’ll ring the bells again for a couple of hours for the Salvation Army. It’s a cold experience on the outside. But warm on the inside. When we did it a year ago, we figured giving would be reduced. Wrong! As the kettles were collected, we were pleasantly surprised to find out donations had hit a new high! Few passed our location without adding at least some loose change. I don’t expect less now.

Some churches and community centers will serve Christmas dinner on the 24th or 25th. An hour or two standing over a serving line dishing out mashed potatoes can result in Christmas-like feelings of service and love.

Wise men and shepherds didn’t come to the manger to be served. They came to serve. They came to give. They came to be told their lives had been changed forever. In a stable.

It would be impossible not to think of what’s happened in our own lives in 2009. But if we move our gaze from what’s under the tree to what’s on top, we’ll be served, too. If we follow the spirt of Christmas, which is to love and to give, we’ll find real life hasn’t changed all that much.


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