I recently spent a week at a conference in Italy. Hey, I gotta tell you, those people can cook. We had noodles, pasta, meat and all sorts of things. Everyone asked me when I returned, “Did you eat Italian food over there?” to which I responded, “Well, yes, but over there I think they just call it food.” Anyway, I did eat and I loved it. But I really missed hamburgers. All I could think of was eating a big, nasty, grill-cooked, juicy, cholesterol-laden, greasy hamburger, oozing with all sorts of fat happiness. When I returned, my sister was waiting for me at the airport. After she greeted me, she said, “How does a burger sound?” Oh, thank you God! So, she bought me one from a fast food joint. Salivating, I took a big, big bite ... and got nothing but bun. Yuck! There is nothing worse than that! I always feel so much pressure at Christmas time. There’s so much that has to be done and I have to make sure I get the right gift for each person. How can I balance my perspective so that Christmas is the prayerful experience it is meant to be? Many of us, in this Christmas season, may be experiencing the same kinds of pressures. We are ready to take a big bite out of the season and enjoy what God has cooked up for us, but we find that in the end, all we’ve got is cheap, dry hamburger bun. I mean, hey, it’s that time of the year again. Christmas is here and we are running around like crazy. Now, just to be clear, this isn’t going to be one of those “You are missing the reason for the season!” lectures. I figure we have enough guilt over other things that we don’t need any more. Let’s face it: we’ve got shopping to do! How do we do the shopping, the running, and handle the seasonal craziness and still stay focused? That is the big question. Before I answer it, though, let me give a disclaimer: We’re going to talk about money, and the one thing we have to remember is the need to be financially responsible. Our money is a gift from God and we always need to be thoughtful in how we spend. Got it? Good. Now, let’s get to the meat of our discussion on Christmas. It’s a natural tendency on our parts to be worried about taking Christmas gift giving to an extreme. Some have even said that we need to dump the whole gift exchange practice, so we can go to the “real meaning” of Christmas. But I think we have to ask ourselves an important question: What if gift-giving IS a big part of the real meaning of Christmas? Here’s what I mean: Christmas recalls the day of Jesus’ birth. We celebrate the fact that God took flesh and walked among us. God became one of us in order to save us. THAT is God’s gift to us, and the greatest gift we will ever receive. We celebrate these two realities by giving gifts to each other. First, we give gifts to Jesus by using all He gave us to glorify God. Secondly, we give gifts to Jesus by loving His people and celebrating the presence of God within them. Thirdly, we give gifts to Jesus by giving gifts to His people. For instance, there’s that sweater you gave your brother last Christmas (you know the one: that real ugly green-and-red number with the flashing lights). Jesus dug it and says ‘thank you.’ Do you see what I mean? We don’t have to feel guilty for running around like crazy people, buying presents for those we love, because it is a way of expressing our thanks to God when we do it responsibly. So, this year, in the midst of your shopping, offer it all as a prayer. You’ll find Christmas more rewarding, gift giving more exciting, and the whole season will be a time of celebrating God’s love for us and our love for Him and His people. And you just might not buy another ugly sweater, too. Enjoy another day in God’s presence!