RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–A red feather symbolizes sacrificial giving during the Christmas season -– at least to Tom Elliff and his family.
Elliff, senior vice president for spiritual nurture and church relations at the International Mission Board, shared during a Dec. 7 chapel service how a red feather tucked underneath the angel on his Christmas tree reminds him of the true purpose of giving.
While many Americans may feel some donor fatigue after a year of giving to disaster relief projects and needs around the world, Elliff challenged Southern Baptists to not pass on their opportunity this Christmas season to impact others through “extravagant” giving.
“I don’t mean extravagant, necessarily, monetarily, but an extravagant expression of our love for God,” he said.
Elliff shared how a red feather came to represent that type of love when he was a boy in Lake Village, Ark.
The son of a preacher, Elliff recalled growing up in a simple house built on stilts, with a few goats grazing underneath. He said there was one particular “meager” year when the family barely had anything to hang on their Christmas tree.
“All it had was some popcorn strung together and some construction paper chains,” Elliff said. “My mother kept saying, ‘It just needs something else.’”
That day, a prominent church member dropped off an expensive gift for Elliff’s mother. The gift was a fancy green hat with a red feather. In those days, he explained, a hat was a prized gift for women since most of them wore hats everywhere they went. But when Elliff’s mother looked at the tree and her children, she plucked the feather out of the hat and stuck it in the top of the tree.
“There, that’s just what it needs,” she said.
Elliff described his mother’s actions as impulsive and selfless.
“She was more concerned about her kids and Christmas than she was about her hat,” he said.
After that Christmas, the feather was packed away with the rest of the ornaments in a grapefruit box, and it became a fixture on the tree for years to come.
“That feather had witnessed everything we had done, all the changes of the seasons, and the kids and their new spouses and grandkids,” Elliff said. “[It was] a constant reminder to us of the time when God stepped back and looked at the manger and said, ‘There, that’s just what that world needs.’”
Through the years, the feather became worn and a little diminished in size, Elliff said. He compared the feather’s condition to that of his mother’s weakening health after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Soon after his mother died, the feather disappeared from the grapefruit box.
“It was almost as if my mother was saying, ‘It’s time for you kids to participate in your own extravagant, impulsive, unselfish love,’” Elliff said.
Years later, Elliff told a friend about the red feather. That Christmas he received a package on his doorstep. Inside a box was a red feather with a note from his friend. The note read, “You’re right, Tom. It’s your turn, and here is your feather.”
To this day, a red feather can be found on Christmas trees in the homes of the Elliff family and other friends. Elliff concluded his story with a poem:
What? Giving again? I ask in dismay
Must I keep giving and giving away?
“Oh, no,” said the Lord, looking me through
But do keep giving until I stop giving to you.