Advent is a time of preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of Christ’s birth—God’s gift to us. It’s also a time of searching for the perfect gift for those who we care about and who are close to us. Children, especially, enjoy opening that “special package.”
It’s appropriate to give to those we love, just like a loving God gave to us. However, many of us have more than enough material resources, and sometimes we overdo it. Meanwhile, there are many people who find it hard to make ends meet.
Jesus came, among other reasons, to show us an alternative to the prevailing societal values of the time. One of our current societal norms is over-consumption. In the spirit of living more simply and sharing our resources with our brothers and sisters in Christ, here are some alternative gifts to consider giving to family and friends this holiday season:
• Recycled goods: “Reduce, reuse, recycle” might be an old cliché, but reducing material consumption comes through reusing and recycling. Visit a local thrift store, or purchase items with recycled materials or parts.
• Time: The best gifts can’t be bought. Give the gift of time. Make a homemade gift certificate for snow shoveling, gardening, or enjoying a picnic together. Volunteer somewhere in honor of a loved one (or, even better, volunteer with a loved one).
• Donation: Make a donation to a nonprofit in honor of a loved one.
• Heifer International: Give a gift to this organization, which is dedicated to sustainable livestock and agriculture. You can make a contribution in a loved one’s honor that enables the purchase of a chicken, a cow, or another animal for a hungry family. It’s a gift that multiplies because every gift comes with training that helps the family achieve self-reliance.
• Micro-credit loan program: Donate to such a program in a loved one’s honor, and in doing so, help the world’s lowest-income entrepreneurs start or expand a small business and improve their standard of living. There are many individual loan requests listed on www.umcmicrofinance.org, and the Seed Project, which offers loans to women to start small businesses, is another option.
• Fair Trade products: These guarantee that workers receive a livable wage and work in safe and healthy conditions.
• Advance gifts: These gifts, given through the United Methodist Church, serve missions and missionaries worldwide. One-hundred percent of each gift goes directly to the intended project. There are hundreds of them listed with Global Ministries. There are also several dozen Minnesota Conference Advance Specials; these have a direct connection to Minnesota people and churches.
Lyndy Zabel is director of missional impact for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church