I went through a pretty severe disillusionment with the Christmas season, mocking traditions, cynically declaring everyone to be consumerist drones, and pointing out to anyone who listened how Santa was eerily close in spelling to Satan, a coincidence I thought was intentional.
I had become Mr. Grinch, and although I felt my "spiritual" reasons allowed me to be a stink-stank-stunk kind of guy--I began to realize something was wrong in my heart. . .
"You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch!
You're the king of sinful sots!
Your heart's a dead tomato,
Splotched with moldy, purple spots,
Your soul is an apalling dump-heap,
Overflowing with the most disgraceful
assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable,
Mangled-up in tangled-up knots!"
That's not my favorite verse in the song but the one which accurately describes the negative knot of anger and judgment I'd been brewing for several years, to bring in another Christmas icon, I was Ebenezer Scrooge and my "Bah! Humbug!" was potent and freely given...
"But Matt, I'm with you, everyone's spending all this money and making Christmas about stuff! It's horrible!"
But don't we say Christmas is about the best gift of all? And that's why we give gifts?
So, how do we acquire gifts?
"Well, ideally, we'd make something."
But friend, not everyone can make something and even those who do pay for the materials they use to make those products. The amount of people making gifts for others using only raw materials they produced from their own land is a small percent of a percent.
To give gifts to those you love requires, for the vast majority of us, buying something.
Is it wrong to buy gifts for others? I do not think so. In fact, I don't think it's wrong to buy extravagant gifts sometimes...perhaps you remember this story from the life of Jesus:
Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head.
Some of the guests became furious among themselves. "That's criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year's wages and handed out to the poor." They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her. But Jesus said, "Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them. Not so with me. (Mark 14, the Message)
A gift given...
so expensive it cost a year's wages...
the poor neglected...
...and Jesus blesses the giving of the gift. In the Luke recounting of the story, Jesus conveys she gave this gift out of gratitude and affection.
And on top of it all: it was perfume! Perfume? A bottle of perfume worth my yearly salary? Are you kidding me? It's hard for me to think a plastic toy which costs $50 (outrageous!) is more wasteful than smelly liquid so expensive it could support my family for a year. How could you possibly justify not using that money to help the poor?
"Why are you baking those cookies?! You could use those hours serving in a soup kitchen! In fact, why are you even sleeping! You could be knitting socks for orphans in Africa right now!"
We can easily spiral out of control and become incredibly unhealthy when asking questions about gifts and Christmas and cost...
The important question is:
am I giving gifts in love this Christmas?
Love is always sacrificial and sometimes extravagant and ridiculous too, and those kinds of gifts are the best.
I'm not being the Anti-Dave Ramsey here and telling you to go into debt and buy your spouse the surprise Lexus (heck, most of us would go into debt just buying the red bow on that Lexus) nor am I being Mr. Support Sweat Factories By Buying Foreign Toys...don't hear me with Grinch ears...
Jesus says our Heavenly Father know how to give us good gifts, but He says it right after He affirms that we know how to give good gifts to our children. I don't know if you see His endorsement for loving and blessing your kids there in that passage but I do.
God wasn't satisfied to just give us laws from Sinai or to just wipe our slates clean of our eternal debts, John says he lavished us with love and called us His children. Lavish. I like to say He smothered and covered us with His love. And He sent the lavish gift of His Son to a world that mostly ignores what that Son stands for...
Was God wasteful?
"But, but, Matt! You're being awful gracious--there's tons of greed, gluttony, selfishness, ignorance, and jealousy at Christmas that must be addressed!"
Ah, friend, those things aren't just present at Christmas, those are year round commodities, we Grinches just like to shine a light on it once a year. If we were really concerned about their pervasive presence we'd stand against them consistently by our daily choices and not just vocally during the Happy Holidays.
"Wait, you said Happy Holidays, are you one of them?!?"
More on our friend the Grinch tomorrow...