"Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves." ~Eric Sevareid
I'm sure you've heard, said, or at least thought this during the Christmas chaos:
"We all already have everything we need. I don't need your gift and you don't need mine. Let's stop giving gifts. Christmas is about kids. We'll just get THEM gifts."
It's hard not to be tempted to think this sometimes because of the cultural rut we've gotten ourselves into. At times it DOES feel like a runaway train. Believe me... I get it. I write ads for a living and being around Christmas ads this much is enough to put anyone over the edge.
But I don't believe that stopping giving is the remedy to the ailment. It's a visceral reaction. Dig deeper. Giving... is integrally woven into Christmas.
THE verse in the Bible that we can almost all recite John 3:16 is "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." This is essentially THE story of the last 2000 years in a nutshell. Giving. But not JUST giving. Giving extravagantly and sacrificially to people who thought they had everything and didn't need this gift. In fact a gift of immense value that was given and rejected by nearly everyone aside from those who already longed for deeper meaning and purpose. It was a gift that was so good and was so confrontational to self-sufficiency and pride that it had to be killed off. This season is about giving and it's always come with the temptation to treat gifts incorrectly.
I've heard it said that we get to tell the Jesus story at Christmas because people like babies more than execution and martyrdom. But Jesus eventual death was a known entity to wise men and prophets like the Magi who came (at one point or another) to celebrate the birth of a baby into a cows food trough by bringing expensive, impractical, but significant gifts. Isaiah 53:2-3, 5 describes Jesus upbringing and destiny LONG before the first Christmas gift was given:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
A gift. A gift that's beauty and intention still opens hearts. Years ago, U2's Bono was coming back from a very long tour. On Christmas Eve, he went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Belfast. He recalls the revelation he that day about the value of the Christmas gift.
"It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in sh*t and straw... a child, I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry. Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was just sitting there, and it's not that it hadn't struck me before, but tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. Because that’s exactly what we were talking about earlier: love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh."
There must be an incarnation... love has to become flesh. There is something very personally confrontational about receiving gifts. Same with love. It's someone who doesn't HAVE TO, doing something to benefit you... regardless of whether you think you need/deserve it or not. Don't waste your time railing on poor Santa. Saint Nicholas was a faith healer and radical giver whose desire was to see Jesus glorified (link to an old blog called Santa and the human meat pies of death)
Here are a few ways I think we make gift giving and receiving a little more effective this Christmas:
1) WANT to give: In our culture we spend too much time ignoring and disregarding each other to let a season of GIVING go by and not let it change our hearts. Be warned that it can very easily out of shear habit. Learn to enjoy giving. Let the joy of it rise up in your heart. Don't think of people as dollars or lists. Think of them as they really are. Souls and spirits that your incarnation of love can open a door to something more eternal with. It's not about rich or poor. A human is a human is a human.
2) Think about your gift: It does the soul wrong to just pick out some random, insignificant piece in a store and give it because you have to. It SHOULD unsettle you. Really think about what would tickle someones fancy. Something that would really communicate your feelings for them. That's what we do at other times of the year, but the "responsibility" of Christmas giving can rob our creativity and dilute our actual feelings and intention. It doesn't have to be expensive. It could be words that you've never spoken. It could be time. OR it could be a Macbook. The thing doesn't matter... the story and spirit does.
3) Humble yourself to really receive: You're likely going to be getting a gift this year from someone who can't afford to give you something... but they will because they love you. Don't say, "Oh you didn't have to" and feel guilty. They have intentionally given you a gift that cost them something. Humble yourself and receive it and let the spirit of giving warm and inspire you. Be thankful at all times and receive.
4) Give to someone who don't "deserve it": This... is powerful. Think about how The Grinch warms your heart and makes you tear up a little (at least the Dr. Seuss/Boris Karloff version). I watched it this year and said out loud, "Those Whos really should be pissed" after being completely robbed blind on Christmas Eve. But they heaped love on someone who didn't deserve it. It broke The Grinch's heart and cause it to grow. THIS is the kind of gift Christmas is about.
It's not about what we DO deserve. It's about what we don't.
Culturally... we're out of whack with how we function in giving. While minuscule percentages of people tithe and give to the church, and people go hungry around the world... we go into debt at Christmas mindlessly. This is no good. But the answer is not to STOP giving. The answer is MORE giving. The answer is giving more of yourself. Time, Talent AND Treasure. The answer is being intentionally, extravagantly, and unendingly generous on all occasions!
The law of reciprocity tells us that what you give... is comin' back. Still don't think you can do it? Remember what we're celebrating this Christmas. The gift of God's only son, allowed to be born into poverty, even when the one who knows it all KNEW He'd be rejected and killed by the very world He saved from death. Try and out-give that.