Advent (meaning “arrival” or “coming”) is a spiritual season of preparation leading up to Christmas, as Christians get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This season is characterized by personal prayer and repentance along with corporate expressions of anticipation, hope and joy.
Of course, another hallmark of this holiday season is the focus on giving. According to the American Research Group, this year it is estimated that shoppers will spend an average of $854 for gifts, up $200 from last year. Since we are still in an economic crunch with unemployment at 7.7%, many families find themselves overwhelmed by the thought of having to purchase elaborate Christmas presents in addition to the other costs of this season. But sometimes the most meaningful presents are available to give for no cost at all!
Here are a few ideas for free gifts that offer more than a physical object and don’t break the bank:
(1) The Gift of Caring: Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree Advent Calendar is a gift you can use to teach children how to think about others and pray for them during the Christmas season. It offers a daily prayer for your children to help and pray for the children of prisoners and their families.
These very specific prayers will be a meaningful addition to your daily Advent observance. It serves as a powerful reminder of the 1.7 million children in America who will be separated from their incarcerated parents this Christmas and the tens of thousands of Christians across our nation who will reach out to them with the love of Jesus through Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree. It is a significant way to help shift the focus from personal material desires to the deeper needs of others in our society.
(2) The Gift of Hope and Encouragement: Sign up a friend or relative to receive the hope and encouragement that only comes through God’s word. American Bible Society’s initiative, Journeys, offers a daily scripture verse or passage on a variety of topics including love, communication, marriage, family, parenting and more. Journeys are available for a 7-, 14-, 28-day or an ongoing time frame.
Whether it’s through a Journeys’ daily or weekly e-mail Bible study, an audio recording, voicemail, or a text message, you can help someone explore the eternal truths of the Bible in the way that best fits their lifestyle. Each journey contains verses and Bible studies specifically tailored to each day of the journey, communicating God’s Word in a relevant and personal way.
(3) The Gift of Prayer: Sign up a friend or family member to receive prayer from others through PrayerStream, a Twitter-like app that allows people to feel comfort knowing that people across the street and across the globe are praying for them.
PrayerStream is an online community where members can post general prayer requests and praise reports, as well as create individual prayer streams where their family, church, or any other group can post exclusively. It’s a unique initiative run by the Christian Care Ministry, a non-profit sharing organization that seeks to help meet both the physical and spiritual needs.
For no cost, all three of these gifts can help people develop a heart for those in difficult circumstances, grow in their relationship with God, and be encouraged within a community of prayer. What unique and meaningful ways to share and feel the love and joy of the holiday season; as housekeeping author Peg Bracken famously said, “Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”