Give and take

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Conversation with my six-year-old last night, while driving home from the movies. Proof that she’s the daughter of two pastors.

Little C: Mom, you wanna know what’s dumb?

Me: What’s dumb?

C: People who don’t even believe in God, still celebrate Christmas.

M: Yep.

C: Why do they do that? I mean, why would they have a birthday party for someone they don’t even believe in?

M: I dunno. I guess ‘cause it’s fun.

C: But THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! It would be like me celebrating Hanukkah!

And so, I began to explain to my daughter the rituals of a purely secular Christmas, talk about our atheist friends, and explain that it is a cultural thing too. But I just smiled instead, and let her sit with the absurdity a bit. I was thankful because I’m sure that many parents are trying to make the opposite point with their children. That it’s not just about the tree, Santa, gifts, and lights, but it’s about Jesus. God with us.

Okay. I’m going out on a limb here. Are you ready?

Even though the Christmas carols were piped into the movie theater, and it’s just the beginning of November, I love Christmas. I love the longing and richness of Advent and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But (here’s where I’m inching farther out…), I love the gifts. I’m not a materialistic person, but I love giving them. I love getting them. I love shopping for them (as long as I don’t have to step foot in a mall, that is…). I love making them by hand and buying them from stores. I love that my daughter wants a sewing machine this year, and I’m going to buy it for her, even if on a wiser day, I would say, “We can’t afford it.”

It took me a long, long time to get to this place.

Is this an excessive consumer culture? Yes. Are the holidays a time of great depression for many people? Yes. Are we destroying the environment with the plastic junk that we buy for our kids? Yes. Is that infuriating molded packaging that they use for even the smallest toys enough to fill our landfills for centuries to come? Yes. Are we ruining our lives with debt? Yes. Is Christmas a terrible strain on people who simply can’t bear the expense? Yes. Are we destroying our global economy, relying on sweatshops so that we can have the cheapest possible stuff on our shelves? Yes, we are. The answer is an emphatic “yes” for all of the above. Christmas is a time when our ugly sin glares at us, as we wallow in the reality of systemic distortion. And yes, I love Rev. Billy as much as the next person.

But…even in the midst of this, we’ve also got a really good thing going with this Christmas celebration. People in our culture (for better or worse) give gifts as symbols of their love. In fact, that’s true in most cultures. Yet more and more, I hear the church coming out against buying stuff, which is important… but is it really going to stop us from purchasing gifts? Really? Or is it just going to make us feel guilty for what we buy and what we receive?

Maybe I’m talking from my own experience too much. I have a family of origin who gives wonderful excessive gifts, which I used to resent and have mountains of liberal guilt about (see paragraph 13 above). I would, quite literally, open a present and calculate how many starving children my new necklace would feed.

Then I learned to receive them, quit feeling so shameful about them, and appreciate the love that was being expressed in the gift. I finally learned how to receive.

Our sin is ever before us. Do you think we can muster up some holiday spirit in the midst of it?

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5 thoughts on “Give and take

  1. Yes, I think it’s possible.

    I think we have taken an either-or approach that is not necessary. Though I never listened to him, my father always said, “Moderation is key.”

    I have no problem giving and receiving presents. I love it when I find THAT present for my wife that she didn’t ask for, but I know she will love. (I don’t mean the gift I convince myself she’ll love. “She’d really like this tablesaw.” I mean the thing that will really speak to where she is.)

    I think the challenge is to be intentional about the giving. How many gits to people need?

    My younger son wants everything he sees on television, especially anything with flashing lights. I mean ANYTHING! Apparently then, this year he’s getting a Diabetes testing kit.

    I’m all for getting gifts. I’m also all for saying, “Enough.”

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