Those two words just don’t seem to go together. I’m not sure you’d call it an oxymoron but for me the words are definitely incompatible. Christmas is all about joy and peace and love, and there right at the center is giving. Something about the word obligation seems to go against the grain of the central message of Christmas, yet there seems to be an obligatory thread that is woven through the holiday season.

Do you ever feel like you have to buy gifts for some people? You don’t really want to but you have to, or so you feel. It’s either because they gave you something or because you’ve exchanged gifts for years and stopping doesn’t seem like much of an option. Whatever the case it feels like an obligation and it takes the joy out of the giving.

When I want to give a gift it makes all the difference. When my gift to someone comes out of love and is a response it shifts from obligation to joy. Like most married couples (at least I assume this to be true) my wife and I exchange gifts at Christmas. Last year we tried something different and gave smaller, stocking-stuffer type gifts. We decided the gifts should have special meaning to the other person and so any little thing just wouldn’t do. While we didn’t have to follow a theme Jacque decided that my entire stocking should have a cool and meaningful theme. It was great fun to give…and receive.

We’re doing the same thing this year and so in my spare moments I find myself trying to be creative about what I’m going to give Jacque. It’s got to be right. Not an obligatory right but the kind of right that says I love you, you’re special and I took the time to find things that would express that in just the right way.

I wonder at this time of year how often we do things out of obligation? I’m not naive enough to believe there won’t be those things but I’m idealistic enough to believe there shouldn’t be. Isn’t it mostly a matter of attitude and thought? What would happen if you decided to approach nothing this holiday season as an obligation? What kind of difference would it make for you to view everything through a lens of joy and love and celebration? 

Christmas shouldn’t be another obligation. The entire spirit and attitude of Christmas should flow freely from the thankfulness we just focused on last week. SO, let it flow freely because Christmas isn’t an obligation. Christmas is a response!


Last night my older brother was in town — the one who shoots the dorky home videos complete with his on-air style commentary — and he decided it was time to show us some classic Cork family Christmas footage. I have to admit I wasn’t looking forward to enduring the combination of embarrassing imagery and motion sickness (my brother doesn’t have much of a steady hand when it comes to videography). However, in spite of bad hair and dated fashion I found myself enjoying the reliving of rich moments from the Christmas of 1994.

That particular Christmas Jacque and I were leading Christmas Eve worship at a young church we were a part of and all three of our children played key roles in the service. So last night we saw a 7 year old Aimee, minus her 2 front teeth reading a rather lengthy Christmas story, a 9 year old Ryan singing Silent Night (his first public solo) with a very high voice. We also enjoyed hearing Jessica play flute on Away in a Manger, which was a duet with me on trumpet. This was especially entertaining because of the looks Jessica shot me when I made mistakes — she still gives those same looks.

We also watched the entire Cork family in gift-opening action Christmas morning, and then around the dinner table that afternoon. As I watched our dad praying before Christmas dinner I was reminded of the open heart surgery he had undergone just weeks before and how thankful we were to have him with us then, and still today nearly 13 years later. I was reminded of how much our children have changed since then yet how similar they remain.

At that moldable time in their lives we poured as much of ourselves into them as possible. We exposed them to things we felt were important, involved them in a variety of experiences, including being in front of people as they were that Christmas Eve in ‘94. Why? Because our job was to prepare them for the future. Now that they’re old enough to make their own choices and involve themselves in the things they find most appropriate, all three of them continue to place ministry related service as a priority in their lives. It’s what they saw modeled as they were growing up so it just comes naturally to them.

I’m sorry if this trip down memory lane was boring, but my heart got pretty full last night as I reflected on family life, and I couldn’t help myself.