“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” — Billy Graham, who turned 93 on November 7,2011.
Billy Graham has been an internationally recognized religious leader for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories of him come from sitting in my grandparents’ living room watching one of his crusades on the television. To be honest, as a young boy, I was not particularly thrilled with the idea of watching a televised sermon. However, there was only one television and only two channels, so the options were limited. Even if there had been other options, I am not sure that they would have been utilized. My grandparents made it pretty clear that watching Billy Graham preach was important.
Through the years, they made other values clear as well. The way they shared their values was just as important, maybe more so, as the values themselves. They did so with a steadfast consistency that made their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren feel wanted and loved.
Of course, while they were leaving this legacy of love and faith they were not mindful of it. At least, I don’t think they were. They seemed to just be living their lives and doing the work that each day brought with it. Mind you, each day, each task and each interaction was sprinkled with their values so that day by day their legacy was being left.
Legacies are not something that can be put off until the last minute. Nor are they something that we can borrow from someone else. All the while we are living we are leaving one. The question then is not are we leaving a legacy, but what sort of legacy are we leaving?
Billy Graham rightly points out that leaving a legacy of character and faith is to be desired above one of money or material things. I imagine that most of us would agree with him. Yet, most of us spend a good part of each day working to earn money so that we can buy the material things that we need. Given that reality, it is not surprising that those matters become the focus of life for so many people. The problem does not lie in laboring daily for the necessities of life, but doing so in a way that conveys the idea that such activity, and the acquisition of its fruits, is what matters most in life. Esther de Waal writes, “Christ was a carpenter for most of his life, and those years were not wasted ones. Then I reflect that for me too it would be really very extraordinary if my own Christian life did not grow out of the most ordinary daily round of family life and earning a living. Christianity does not isolate the sacred from the secular. Not only are material things good in themselves, they are also signs of God’s loving attention, and they can, if we let them, open up a way to him. God, in fact, reaches us where we are, at home, in the prosaic reality of our daily lives.”
The notion of leaving a legacy for those who come after us is a bit daunting. It can easily become one large spiritual challenge that weighs us down rather than setting us free to live as God calls us. Truth is, the legacy will take care of itself if we simply endeavor to live our lives day by day as near to God as we are able, recognizing God in the ordinary tasks of day- to-day living. and doing those tasks with care and love, even reverently, so life becomes a prayer.
How will we live the next 40 or so days? Will we live them anticipating the advent of our savior’s birth? Will they be for us days filled with mystery, wonder, joy and faith? Or will they be for us hectic days filled with the stress that seems to have become an expected characteristic of the holiday season? You may feel like you have no choice. You may feel like you have to do all the traditional things that are expected of you to make this season what it is supposed to be. Many people do feel that certain holiday activities are necessary, even if those activities leave them worn out, frazzled and worried about how it is all going to get paid for when the bills start arriving in January. Even church people spend a good deal of time during the holiday season upholding traditions that do little to draw them into a deeper experience the grace and love born so long ago at Bethlehem.
Doing something different can be hard, especially when accepted customs and practices have been established for so long. Nonetheless, at Ball Camp Baptist Church we are going to try something new this year. In a small way, it is an attempt to leave behind a new legacy, a legacy that gives life, hope and freedom. That’s right we are going to try to make the birth of Christ the focus of this Advent and Christmas season. We are going to do that by asking a simple question: What if the birth of Christ changed the world again? What do followers of Christ need to do in order for Christ’s birth to once again be a world changing event? How do we need to live these next 40 or so days in order to leave a legacy of hope and love, rather than one of frenzy and frustration?
This Advent season we are going to conspire together (literally: breathe together) around four ideas:
Worship Fully – because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus.
Spend Less – and free resources for things that truly matter.
Give More – of our presence, our hands, our words, our time, our hearts.
Love All – the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized, the sick, in ways that make a difference.
I believe that in our heart of hearts we believe that the birth of Christ is an event that can still change the world, and that is a legacy worth leaving to our children and grandchildren.