Dec 27, 2015
Yes, indeed, it is the season of giving. But, most of all, it is the season of giving in to the stress and anxiety of buying just the right thing - or at least something - that will please the receiver, from the slightly estranged relative we'll meet under the Christmas tree to the tyrannical child whose wishes haunt us through the crowded stores. We enjoy an overload of cheap Chinese merchandise, and sales of all kinds lure us into endless lines, parking lot rivalries, traffic gridlock, and late-night internet splurging. Then there's the endless wrapping with stacks of paper, all to end in a messy pile within minutes. It is the things, material and tangible, we seem to care most about. As parents, how could we possibly sacrifice first impressions of Santa's generosity for the sake of "less is more"?
But as hard as this question is to confront just a couple of days before Christmas, we should ask ourselves, for Christmas' sake, "is more really more?" Shocking as it may be to those of us who find ourselves in a whirlwind of buying, propelled by a fear that we might not be giving enough, or not the right "thing," the real Christmas is really more about receiving than it is about giving. And this message carries meaning for Christians and non-Christians alike.
Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. Lest we forget, Christ was born in a manger, the humblest of settings, to tell us a few crucial things about love and mercy, and then to die on the cross to save the world. His birth had little to do with the material overload that the celebration of Christmas has become. Indeed, the three Magi brought gifts. But before joining in the shopping race, be aware of the symbolism of those gifts. Gold was a gift befit of kings, frankincense was the source of light for prayer, and myrrh was to embalm the dead. The Magi knew that no gift could ever suffice to honor a God who lowered himself to be with us in human form. Their visit, while bearing gifts, was a gesture of welcoming and receiving rather than giving. And this is where any person, Christian or not, can recognize the significance of the true Christmas gift.
The Christmas story has power beyond the Christian faith. The story of Christ's birth in Bethlehem is the story of a gift, of a God becoming man to give himself to all. For Christians, Christmas is a call to accept this gift. Christmas calls Christians to be generous by opening their hearts to the love contained in the message of the incarnation. Yet, this gift has strings attached and shows just how humbling a true gift can be. God's gift through Christ humbles the faithful and points to their human shortcomings. Such "humbling" can occur in many ways. A guest who rejects the host's generosity might not do so out of true modesty, but rather, because he lacks generosity of heart. It is a generous act to accept the kindness of others. By accepting, we acknowledge a need; we acknowledge our longing for acceptance and love, and we indicate to those giving that they have something to give.