by Bob Simmons
As we approach the end of the year, our thoughts turn to giving. We give to our family and friends. We give to our houses of worship. We give to the groups who serve our community. We plan our giving. We anticipate our giving. We smile, almost giddy with the joy that our giving returns to us.
Is that joy our motivation? Yes, but it comes from something deeper. We give because we remember that we are all in this together, that we really do love one another after all.
We are moved by philanthropy: literally, the love of humanity. From the pleasure of a token of affection, to the satisfaction of providing charity for immediate needs, we manifest our love for each other and for our community by making sacrifices for each other’s welfare.
One of my favorite holiday movies, The Bishop’s Wife, tells a fable of philanthropy. Cary Grant is an angel sent to help David Niven, a bishop who has become distracted from his real mission of love by the pursuit of money, to build a great cathedral. At the end, Niven remembers that he cares, but he does not remember the angel’s help because his philanthropy was never really lost – it was inside him all the time.
In the closing scene, Niven delivers a sermon left for him by Grant, at first hesitant and surprised by the words he is reading but then speaking them with conviction and without looking down at the page because they really arise from the part of him he has recovered. Regardless of your religion, it is worth hearing because its message is simple and true, about our love for each other as human beings:
“Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry; a blazing star hung over a stable; and wise men came with birthday gifts.
We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe.
For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled – all, that is, except one.
And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger.
It’s his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share: loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance.
All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”
We live in a community where the stocking of philanthropy is never left empty, a generous community where each of us puts in at least our share of those shining gifts, and some give much more.
This year, let us commit to leaving no stocking unfilled. Let us put children first, offering what is most needed, asking them what it is they would most wish for, and responding generously out of our abundance.