Today is “Cyber Monday.” Friday was “Black Friday,” which actually started on Thursday (the holiday formerly known as “Thanksgiving”). When you stop and think about it, the idea of Christmas shopping is a very strange one. Do we really expect to find Christmas for sale somewhere?
I need to insert two footnotes before going any farther. First, as someone concerned about the national and global economy, I am glad that the early reports on Black Friday show that sales are up. And second, having enjoyed a childhood full of wonderful Christmas presents (though the gifts I got were very modest by today’s standards), I am not about to suggest that today’s children should be denied those self-indulgent delights.
Deep inside the materialistic excesses of our holiday shopping, there is a theology struggling to get out. The tradition of gift giving goes back to the Three Wise Men, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus in the manger. At its best, the gift giving celebration affirms our faith that God is still among us, that we experience Christ in every human hand and face. In other words, every baby is baby Jesus. We give gifts to our friends and family as a celebration of Christ’s presence within them.
Of course, if we are really trying to give a present to Jesus, then we need to ask, “What kind of present would Jesus want?” (WKPWJW?) I’m guessing it’s probably not something you can get at the mall. And though I am pained to admit it, I probably can’t order it from LL Bean.
According to the Gospels, he wants us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to forgive those who hurt us, to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile, to work for peace and justice, and pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, to give all that we have, and to follow him.
On the way to accomplishing that (and some of it can only happen in God’s time and by God’s doing), what Jesus wants is changed lives. And he wants that, not because it’s good for him, but because it’s good for us.
"Are you ready for Christmas?"
"I’m ready for a different kind of Christmas. During Advent I try to begin each day with a few minutes of Bible study. I read the familiar texts from Isaiah and Luke. I try to let it sink in, and I try to read it every day as if I had never read it before. I try to envision what the world would be like if we really lived out those scriptures. Then I pray for my friends and family. Some of them are going through difficult times. And my own life is not as bright as the Christmas lights. But mostly it's just a simple prayer that we slow down enough to really enjoy the season and be thankful for one another. How about you?"
That might lead to a very interesting discussion, or a long silence. What do you think? Are you ready for a different kind of Christmas?