Budget time in my church comes during the approach of Christmas, for our fiscal year begins January 1. The juxtaposition is simply jarring.

Christmas in church is the dreamiest of times, when we rejoice in song as we never do otherwise, when the staunchest of iconoclasts welcome at least some decoration (a few pine boughs, perhaps) into the sanctuary, when our memories of childhood get tangled with the story of the birth of Jesus. That story has proven its strength to rekindle people's deepest hopes, whether they believe it or not. We who do believe it almost burst with hope at Christmastime.

But then we face the budget, the antithesis of the star atop the Christmas tree. The budget embodies dreary materialism, with all its inevitable disappointments. It is hard to synchronize this with Christmas; hard to harmonize the reedy sound of children practicing "Silent Night" with the anguished comments of the small committee of tired elders working late into the night to make the numbered columns come out right.

Not that budgets are entirely uninspiring. At my church, we begin the process in various committees by seeing visions and dreaming dreams. The Christian education committee envisions buying a complete library of Christian videos. The outreach and membership committee (with the pastor's enthusiastic concurrence) dreams of hiring a retired pastor to call on the sick and homebound. For the plant committee, paradise would be a repaved parking lot.

Ordinary though our dreams may sound, they are offspring of a wider vision: to live and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. When we work through the logistics of making our dreams come true, our dreams grow sharper. We are lifted out of our routines and, almost inevitably, inspired. ...

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