It’s the Christmas season, this is easy to tell. It really is a unique time of year, especially in America. It can be a time to take a break from work and school and spend much needed time with loved ones, some even take this time to give to the less fortunate. Also during this time, retail stores have lines out of the door, nearly everything is on sale, for some reason we stop eating popcorn and run string through it instead, we put trees in our house, and we use weird words like “merry,” “eggnog,” “Yuletide,” and “boughs.”
At this time of year, there always seems to be a conflict between those contending to “keep Christ in Christmas” and those seeking to “keep the X in Xmas.” Either way, it’s impossible to deny that Christmas is becoming (if it isn’t already in some circles) a secular holiday, and culture specific. I have Jewish friends, atheist friends, and agnostic friends who celebrate Christmas. On the flip-side, I have Christian friends who do not celebrate Christmas. I believe a Christian should recognize and celebrate our savior every day. There are no instructions for celebrating Christmas in the Bible. Other than the story of Jesus’ birth, all things Christmas seem to be determined by culture or tradition.
I’m not here to write about keeping Christ in Christmas or Bill O’Reilly’s declared “war on Christmas.” Nor do I want to de-emphasize our savior and the importance of his birth, life, and death. I’m just going to talk about gift giving. Especially Christian gift giving and receiving.
The popular “spirit of Christmas” today seems to be one of materialism, retail-fever, and consumerism. Stuff –this is what many look forward to at Christmas time. When we read through the Bible, it is clear that the love of stuff and money is a slippery slope (Mt. 16:26; Mt. 6:24; Mt. 19:24). Paul even makes it clear to the young Timothy that some have wandered from the faith, and done themselves much harm by craving and loving money (1 Tim. 6:10). When we are bombarded by television ads, retail gimmicks, and a serious case of keeping up with the Joneses, it can be hard not to fall into the pit materialism. I admit, it’s hard for me. Often times I find myself looking forward more to giving and receiving awesome material gifts and money, than I do to spending time with family and spreading the themes of joy, peace, love, and Christ.
As Christians in the capital of consumerism, we need to keep guard and watch ourselves, lest we fall into the endless trap of seeking to acquire things and stuff and money. A Christian’s treasure should not be in this physical world: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:19-21). If we as Christians see our Xboxes, PlayStations, and new clothes as our treasure, we are going to be greatly disappointed. There is something blissful and peaceful about having treasures in a place where there is no rust, no moths, and no thieves. We as Christians have an eternal treasure, and through Christ we have this treasure. If we see things and stuff as our treasure, we are missing the point of Christianity.
Giving and receiving physical gifts is not a sin or evil. But when we treasure these physical gifts over the spiritual gifts found in Christ, we have a problem. When we put our stuff above our spirit, we are in the same shoes as the rich young ruler (Mt. 19:16-22). Let’s take a look at some gifts a Christian could give that far surpass the value of anything under any tree.
If “Jesus is the reason for the season,” then love is the reason for the season (Jn. 3:16-17). If God didn’t love us, Jesus never would have been born, nor would he had been willing to die. We should keep in mind the immense love God has for us, and give that same love to others, willing to forgive them of the wrong they may have done us, and making it known to others the love of Christ. Love is extremely important and the crown jewel of the Christian life. One of my favorite verses in Proverbs reads “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (15:17). In other words, I would prefer a money-less card from someone who gave it to me with love over an Xbox One from somebody who secretly hates me or was giving me a gift out of compulsion. It’s not about what we give, but how we give (2 Cor. 9:7). If we are giving love with love, there is no way we can go wrong. When we realize that our treasure is not on earth, a house filled with love is better than a house filled with presents.
The gospel of Christ is the best gift a Christian can give. Literally, the “good news” of Jesus. Around Christmas time, Jesus enters the view and mind of those who may not always think/hear about the savior of the world. This opens a door for Christians to share the good news, that God has a plan of redemption and it is through his son. We can tell our neighbors and friends that Jesus was born, lived, died, and was resurrected according to the hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament. When we as Christians keep in mind the power of the gospel and its role in man’s reconciliation with God, we realize that the gospel is the most valuable gift we can give. This gift especially should be given with love, and come from a place of love within ourselves.
Giving to the less fortunate
Sometimes we can forget that Jesus himself said “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The Greek word translated “blessed” in this verse can also be translated “happy.” So, “it is happier to give than to receive.” The concept of giving being more of a blessing than receiving is an important one to keep in mind during the holiday season, and as Christians we should be more willing to give than to receive. Also, as Christians, we should be more than willing to fill the role of a servant, even as Christ did (Phil. 2:3-5). God expects Christians to take care of those who are less fortunate, and those who are seen as righteous in the eyes of God do so. Not everyone has the capability to have a holly jolly Christmas. Whether it be financial hardship, homelessness, or just general difficulties, there are many in America, across the world, and even in the church who have to fight and struggle to keep their head above water, nonetheless have a Christmas feast and supply gifts for under the tree. Christians, who are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9 NASB) should be the first in line to help the less fortunate, even if that means compromising personal comfort. It is after all more blessed to give than to receive.
Let us remember always, and especially during this season, that our treasures should be in heaven rather than in the material things of this transient world. Also keeping in mind that the love of money and possessions is a slippery slope, and friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Let’s also keep in mind that this holiday season there are those living without love, without Christ, and without ample shelter, food, or funds. Who better to help those who are loveless, Christ-less, and money-less than those who are followers of the son of God? There are gifts better than what is under most trees, and you can’t even buy them from the store. So, let’s be the light of the world in December, and every other month. We have the power to turn consumerism into consideration and let the Spirit of Christ abound.