Yes, it Really Is About Giving Presents

So many Christians are real Scrooges about Christmas…expressing a great deal of rancor and nastiness because Christmas is not celebrated in the way they think it ought to be.  Well, guess what…they are wrong to do so.

“Christmas is not about a tree! or strings of lights!”

Well, actually, yes it is, partly.  The Christmas tree has several ‘roots’ in Christian tradition, one of which is how “the temptation that brought sin into the world hung on a tree (the forbidden fruit), and the act that resulted in salvation from sin (Christ on the cross) hung on a tree. Furthermore, once sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and all mankind, were no longer permitted to eat of the tree of life. However, in eternity, Christ’s work on the cross will give us ‘the right to eat of the tree of life’ once again (Revelation 2:7).”  (from Traditional Christmas Symbols – Christmas Trees.)

“Well, it’s not about presents, then!”

It most certainly is.  While the giving of gifts has obvious roots in Christian tradition, i.e., God’s gift of His Son to the world, I believe there is a much more important reason to preserve the tradition of gift giving:  Christ NEVER commanded us to celebrate His birthday; He DID, however, command us to love our neighbor.

(Who is our neighbor?  Every one else.  EVERY ONE ELSE.  Yes, them, too.)

No one quibbles about Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Flag Day.  They are important days because without such designated days, most Americans would go their entire lives without pausing to acknowledge their friends, family members, neighbors, much less strangers who have dedicated their careers, limbs, and lives to protect us and sometimes the world, from harm.  Having a designated day is a good thing.

By the same token, having a designated day to give to others is also a good thing.

It is often debated as to whether Christ actually said that “it is better to give than to receive,” so I will not use that as an argument…although it would be an easy one.  I will say that in order to follow Christ’s command to love others, one would be hard pressed to find a better or simpler way to start doing that, than by giving gifts.  Sure, there are flawed motives, resentments, financial burdens that often result but Christ never said “Love your neighbor only if their are no problems or complications involved.”  In fact, those problems and complications actually introduce additional opportunities to obey His command:  One may readily give gifts to those one appreciates…but what about those one doesn’t particularly like.  The process of giving to someone you don’t want to give to is a huge opportunity for healing.  Let’s say you resent having to buy a gift for your sister-in-law.  Were there no designated day to Do It ANYWAY, you could live out your entire life without having to face the fact that you resent a member of your own family.  As it is, your resentment raises its ugly finger once each year…presenting you with the designated day to DEAL WITH IT.  Christmas…the designated day to deal with your issues; what a gift from God!

Christmas has become crass and commericalized

Has Christmas become crass and commercialized…and we, materialistic?  You bet it has…and we have.   But that’s easy enough for each of us to step around and over-come.  Do not throw the Christ Child out with the sullied bath water.

Christmas as a gift giving occasion is a good thing…a God thing.  It forces us to think about each other…what the other person values and appreciates…and gets us in a position to love that person and express that love.   Without Christmas, such efforts would be rare, indeed.

So, Christmas:  Bah! Humbug?

No.  Baa…as in a little lamb.  The Lamb of God, that showed us that in stripping away the material obsessions, reactions, judgements, greed,..we can be pure Christ-ness on earth the way He did.  God’s gift to the world.  Take Him and give Him as a gift to others this Christmas.  Pray over your gifts before delivering them or putting them under the tree…praying that the Holy Spirit of Christ go with the gift.  Or when you hand someone your gift, point out to them that Jesus showed you how to love and that in celebration of His birth, you want to give them a gift.  Feel moved to share your joy.

The giving of gifts at Christmas is a way to obey Christ’s second commandment.  Just celebrating His birth is not.  Getting grumpy and chastising others for putting up trees, giving gifts, hanging lights, etc. is definitely NOT.

Everything about Christmas has become so hate-filled and crazy!”

Hey, it’s all good; even the long lines and traffic snarls are ‘God sends.’ Talk about teachable moments!  If you were a good Boy Scout, you would thank God for Black Friday because Main Streets and shopping malls during Christmas present abundant opportunities to do many many ‘good turns’…all in one day.

Do you need to feel better about Christmas?  Need to feel better about the world and about life?  Christmas is Here to the Rescue!  Look no further for opportunities to practice love, patience, and kindness:  Go shopping!

The Embassy and Best Practices

Followers of Jesus were instructed to be ambassadors for Christ. (That’s in Corinthians.) A gathering of such followers, therefore, could be considered an embassy.  I’d like to think of it as the most important of all embassies, therefore, I would call it The Embassy.

If I were to open a branch of this Embassy, I would make things simple and just ‘borrow’ the best practices of other similar entities, for example:

  1. Kneeling – It is a good posture to get used to and well familiar with; it is difficult to cop an attitude while on your knees.  Children pray on their knees.  Surrender, its value and purpose, is revealed when one prays on one’s knees.  I have found that spiritual meditation is quite potent when done on my knees.
  2. Silence and meditation – I have heard centering prayer or spiritual meditation  likened to sitting on the porch with a loved one…just being present; no talking necessary.  To be honest, I cannot hear Christ if I am always talking or thinking.  By the way, mindfullness meditation has a different purpose and is not the same thing as spiritual meditation.  Both are good for you.  Do both.
  3. Confession and repentance – I sometimes forget that Christ is always present in me; I tend to pile stuff on top of Christ…stuff like hurt feelings, fear, anger, wants, obsessions and thinking that I am ‘all that.’  Listing all that stuff and choosing to let go of it, works.  Plus, it’s realizing that God is not ‘out there’ or ‘up there’ somewhere but in and throughout me.  Repentance is getting back to that right thinking.

These are just some of the best practices.

Delayed Gratification – not what you think

I have not always appreciated the value and merit of my hard life. But with 20/20 hindsight, I can see that God has been answering my prayers…all along the way.  I find myself now in a place of honor.

The beauty is that I can stand toe-to-toe with scientists, professionals, bureaucrats, and managers; I have been all those things. I can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with single mothers, divorced women, abusive / neglectful parents, persecuted Christians, even the promiscuous because I have been them.  Now, I can look in the eyes of customers who are missing teeth, wear worn-out clothing, and are buying cheap food with EBT cards and show them ‘knowing love’ and compassion; my smile is genuine.  I can sit with patience as the crippled man and the one with slow speech get to the parts of their stories where the true deep wisdom of life comes out.  I am one with them because I am truly one of them. The ‘crazy’ woman in the doctor’s office is no different from me except that she is at a bad place in her illness and is unmedicated.

To be no better off than anyone around me is a truly privileged place to be.  I am never embarrassed by their poverty or uncomfortable with their conditions.  I sit easy in the DSS or Social Security offices because I belong there.  Jesus was able to break bread with the tax collectors and prostitutes because He was one with God.  For me, though, it took a lifetime of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and illness.  But I had prayed for that…sort of.

When I was a teenager, I prayed for the wisdom that scripture said was so valuable.  I also prayed to have a mastery of words so that I might be able to heal and to help people understand life and to get along.  Then I forgot that I had prayed for all of this.  Thank God, God did not forget.

So, here I am. God has been answering my prayers for the past 61.8 years.  And God is not done with me yet.