|A tree in Jesus's honor in a giant shopping mall|
They've all become associated with getting lots more stuff, more calories, more cash.
Family members, friends or neighbors are usually the indulgent givers, sometimes in the guise of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. It's what everyone comes to expect, and expectations tend to keep rising, fueled by a massive holiday marketing machine.
Not that all giving and receiving gifts should be eliminated. There is a sense in which all of life is one big gift exchange, each of us being in a state of lifelong interdependence with others in our families, communities and world neighborhoods. An occasional celebration marked by our giving each other gifts isn't necessarily a bad thing.
But spending ourselves into debt every year to buy ever more things for our children (and for other folks who already have everything they could possibly need) seems antithetical to what the first Christmas was all about.
So here's a modest proposal: What if we were to separate the exchanging of presents we do among ourselves--as in blessing our children and each other with some life-enhancing gifts--from the Christmas giving we do in the name of Christ and for the "least of these"? It is, after all, to such that Jesus would instruct us to give gifts to honor him, on his birthday or on any day, not each other.
The former we could do, complete with festively wrapped gifts and elaborately decorated trees on, say, the winter solstice, on December 21. Then we could do the latter on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day, as we 1) celebrate good tidings of great joy, 2) take time to thank God for our many blessings, and 3) plan how we will lavish Jesus with generous gifts throughout the year.
In other words, if we really want to observe what local JMU professor William C. Wood has called "Merry Excessment", we would separate it from our celebration of "Holy Nativity" or "Feliz Navidad".
I love the following by Arna Njaa, a Lutheran poet and author:
I faced my Lord and asked,
"Would you have me give you gold, frankincense and myrrh?"
He turned his eyes of love out to the hungry world and said,
"Your gold is good for buying bread;
Your frankincense turns into acts of love;
And myrrh, the tenderness I would have you show
To all my children here below
Who hatred and injustice know.
To heal their hurt is finest gold,
To love them, frankincense,
To make them whole is myrrh indeed.
Whatsoever you do for the least of these
Is a gift to me."
That describes a kind of birthday celebration Jesus could truly get excited about.