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I opened the door to greet the brilliant morning. Fair weather clouds glistened in the sunlight. Sparrows twittered overhead. An unfamiliar odor tainted the spring breeze. As I ventured onto the porch, my sandal crunched on the welcome mat. I gasped and retracted my foot from the wingtip of a dead parakeet.

Silly Cat poked his striped head around the bush and mewed. A purr underscored his stride toward me. He raised his head, as if expecting affection for the offering he pilfered from the neighbor’s child.

Yeah, not so much.

I scowled at the rancid corpse and covered my nose. Silly Cat’s ‘gift’ entailed a nasty cleanup job. Ugh.

As I consider the season of Lent, I feel compelled to examine my own offering.  I’m searching my heart and spirit for a fragrant blessing to present. I don’t want to create stench in the Lord’s nostrils or cost Him a nasty cleanup in the wake of my halfhearted devotion. Will I honor the Lord’s sacrifice, or steal some convenient token?

Traditional Lenten celebrations include fasts. For some, the discipline of fasting cultivates honor and submission. Others choose to add a spiritual discipline to their daily routine. The fasts and service done by my neighbors might sing with their hearts. Rather than stealing a random songbird, I must determine which offering best reflects a sacrifice from my heart. 

I must also ensure that I honor Lent in a way that increases my submission to God and love for my neighbors. A sacrifice that detracts from God’s calling or injures others will stink to high heaven. I’m good at sticking to my list, so it would be all too easy to hyper-focus on my personal laws and shrug off the needs of His precious children, saying, “I can’t…because I’m doing this for Lent.” I don’t want to cause Him to drag out the divine shovel to fix my mess.

My prayers today will revolve around Ephesians 5:1-3, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I trust the Lord to inspire a fresh and pleasing way for me to worship Him this season.

I’ve cleaned out my closets and set the extras on the porch for charity pick-up. One toy waits in my trunk to be joined by others. A few more canned goods will go along to the donations tent. Somehow, it seems I should offer more to the huge need in my community.

I scan my home and tap my chin. What have I missed? Have I something else to spare, another resource I’ve kept in reserve?

Need has mounted in our area, as it has elsewhere. The tearful shimmer in the eyes of gaunt children grows familiar across the face of the earth. Many adults share the Christmas wish to give while their hearts ache for lack of funds. I heard these stories this week, while I gazed into the eyes of God’s beloved children. And I prayed for them …

I now realize the most valuable resource to offer one another could not be found on a closet shelf or purchased in a store. I couldn’t transfer funds to provide for the greatest need online. Wealth cannot afford more of it, nor can poverty keep it at a distance. The best gift remains accessible to all, as it was the very first Noel.

God wrapped Love in warm fingers and toes, then laid Him in the arms of ordinary, homeless travelers. He gave more than we could fit under a tree. Into receptive hearts, His love continues pouring in such abundance that we have ample supply to share with all those around us. The more we ask, the more love He showers upon us.

Let us not forget to give the priceless gift, the single offering which honors the purpose of Christmas. In the mall, at the grocery store, in line, or on the phone, show others we care. Love the different folks around us. Ask strangers how they are, and take time to hear their stories. Regardless of our financial situation, if we avail ourselves of the abundant supply from Christ, we can all spare a little extra love this year.

A wide bow, sparkling with polka dots adorns a package on my desk. I know its contents, since I opened it two weeks ago. Too pretty to resist, I rewrapped the gift box and set it near my monitor as an eye-tickler. I adore gift ribbon–wire-edged gossamers, thin curling strands, or smooth satins–any sort triggers delight. Anticipation heightens the impact of a present when it comes tied together in joyful bows.

No one can match the divine packaging of God’s most glorious gift. Eternal life descended on a beam of miraculous starlight and wrapped itself in the Christ child. At first glance, some might have been distracted by the rags or hay. But graver hindrances followed.

Soon after the nativity, horrors of mass infanticide overwhelmed the land. Grief pierced their hearts. God’s perfect gift lay right among them, but circumstances drew attention away from His presence.

Evil seeks to hamper the ability to recieve life.  Many fail to recognize priceless joy amid bleak circumstances. Despite pain and tragedy threatening to blind us, this gift of life  remains here for each and all, complete with radiant bows.

Jesus gathers the world together in love ribbons, the most beautiful binding agent ever designed. He planted Himself among the deepest pain and coldest hopelessness in humanity. Tendrils of life exploded from His heart, spilling over the earth to draw us together in Him and to our Father.

With this unfathomable gift, we dwell within the heart of our Sovereign Lord and connect with His beloved children as siblings. In the midst of our suffering, we unite through His suffering. Our love binds us to Him in divine strength and we conquer the dark plot of evil as we hold fast to one another in radiant bows.

 “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

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