Faithlink Discussion: Celebrating Christmas
by Jacob Juncker
One of the most significant Christmas traditions is gift-giving. The wise men brought fine gifts (Matthew 2:11). Although the emphasis on gifts can, unfortunately, turn into gift-getting, other Christian traditions include sharing gifts with others, often those less fortunate. The Magi’s selflessness–they gave gifts to Jesus but did not expect anything in return–provides a good example for the spirit of giving.
from Faithlink: Connecting Life and Faith, vol. 16, no. 34 (Nashville: Cokesbury, 2010), December 19, 2010.
This Advent, I have been doing a lot of thinking about how I celebrate Christmas. I have been challenged by a Bible study I am leading called Advent Conspiracy which suggests that Christmas today can still change the world for the glory of God as it did when Christ himself was born. What the conspiracy is truly calling for is a rebirth of Christ in the world. It is calling for the body of Christ to find new strength in the Christ child so that the world might know of God’s love found in the babe born in a manger.
It is estimated that U.S. citizens will spend nearly a half-trillion dollars ($500,000,000,000) on Christmas this year while it would only take an estimated 30 billion dollars ($30,000,000,000, less than 1/10 of what is spent on Christmas in the U.S.A) to provide clean drinking water to the nearly 1.1 billion people who do not currently have it. When looked at these numbers side by side (how much we spend on Christmas vs. how much we need to give clean drinking water to all), the problem seems easily solved. Everyone could give just one or two less presents this year. But, the “gift-getting” side of Christmas is deeply engrained in our psyche. I mean, what would Christmas be if we got less gifts? or, heaven forbid, if we didn’t get any gifts?!? What if Christmas was just about being with each other? taking time to be with those we love? spending what little we have on getting together rather than buying and receiving gifts we really don’t need?
I recently saw a church Christmas sign that said, “It’s not your birthday!” What a blunt, but true statement. Christmas is not about getting stuff for ourselves. It is about offering ourselves and our gifts to God. In Matthew 25, Jesus reminds us that when we give to “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus tells us (Matthew 25:31-40) that in giving to the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned we are giving to Christ himself.
I wonder, what would it be like if we truly gave like the magi–“giving this Christmas away”–offering gifts to those who truly need it? I think we might just be able to transform the world for the glory of God, if only for a day or season, through our giving to the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned.