Here is a piece of advice for you. Do not go to Target on a rainy Sunday afternoon when toys are on sale. I did not take this advice on the first Sunday of advent and found myself in very crowded aisles.
I have heard that places like Target have stepped up their game after the demise of Toys R Us. Not only is there the toy section, but there are little kiosks throughout the store where you can pick up small toys as you walk by. They arrange their toys in a way that makes them fairly easy to find and, unlike the Toys R Us in Peoria at least, the store is clean and bright and there are people around who can help find things. As a grandparent, I often go looking for toys that I know nothing about and have to ask for help to know what category I should be searching.
But, on this particular Sunday, I found myself in a scrum of other people doing the same thing I was doing. I was racing to buy the toys that had been enumerated by children whose names and requests appeared on the Angel Tree at the church my husband serves as pastor. As I looked around at the logjam of carts and the people pushing them, I saw that there were other individuals or groups who had the same kind of lists or tags in their hands. We were braving the crowds to buy things for children whom we would never meet.
This has been part of my Christmas for a long time. I read a story by Harriet Beecher Stowe called “Christmas, or the Good Fairy” years ago. It was written around the same time as “A Christmas Carol” and has the same theme. For some reason, it struck me. I must have been worrying about buying gifts for my children who were little at the time. They had so many things already. What could I buy for them that would not just get lost in the toy pile and become one more thing for me to pick up?
About the same time another woman and I managed the Angel Tree for our town of 2000 people in Iowa. We collected the names of people who needed help; managed the tree; collected money; bought more gifts for each family; got food from the food bank and on and on. Each year we had boxes of gifts for about 40 families.
When I buy the gifts from the angel tree or packed all of those boxes years ago, I think about the people who will receive the gifts. I hope they will see them, not as charity, but as a gift from someone who is celebrating the great gift God has given to us. I also hope that, by asking what they want or need and not just making assumptions about it, we can move a little closer to seeing them as sisters and brothers in Christ, not just the object of our good intentions.
Being charitable is a part of who we are as Christians. In this season and always, may we find ways to bring tangible gifts to those who need them in a way that preserves their dignity and gives them hope in the name of one who is a gift to us all.
Susan D. Krummel (Sue)
Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Chicago