Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Other Side of Christmas Consumerism

So often you hear Christians complain about how materialistic Christmas has become, how commercialized. I’ve done it myself. And it’s true, it has. At the same time, it’s always struck me as a slightly odd complaint. The Christmas season is the one time of year when we’re not going out shopping for ourselves. We go to buy gifts for our loved ones. True, it’s very easy to become excited about Christmas solely on the basis of the gifts that other people are going to be giving you. As a child that’s really all it is, in spite of many reminders that it’s “more blessed to give than to receive.” But as an adult I can see a good side even to the receiving. I may be a little biased. But hear me out.

I would estimate that about 75% of what I own was given to me. Well, I mean, by a person. 100% was given to me by God, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The most expensive thing I own is my car. I chose it myself, and borrowed the money from my parents, fully intending to pay them back. But when I got married they forgave the debt. Both of my computers were gifts from John, my Advantix camera was a gift from John, and of course my diamond ring was from him. My jewelry chest is from his parents; practically all of my jewelry were gifts, besides a small (and cheap) necklace I bought for myself in Venice and another I bought myself for the Winter Formal in high school. Even my books were mostly gifts, and probably all of the nice hardback ones were. And then there’s the wedding presents! The long and the short of it is that I’m very rich in gifts.

I don’t think it has had the end result of making me a more selfish, greedy person. On the contrary, I tend to lean too much in the direction of not buying myself things. Just ask my husband (there are holes in my shoes and he Does Not Approve). I’ll admit that could be because of many other factors, such as growing up with 12 brothers and sisters.

Still, there are more arguments besides my own experience in the defense of receiving gifts, not just giving gifts. No doubt giving is better, but if no one has the grace to receive, how can you give? We all know those people who refuse to let other people help them because they “don’t want to be a burden” or to “cause trouble.” It’s not a good thing. In fact, it cheapens your love for them. Sacrificing for another person is a joy, a way to imitate God! But how can you sacrifice for someone if they refuse to be sacrificed for?

Now, imagine a world where people never did give gifts to each other, either necessities or other things. This would in no way glorify God, the Great Gift-Giver. He gives lavishly! And He does not give us only what we need, not by a long shot. Have you looked at the world around you recently? The sunsets, roses, butterflies, seagulls, robins, mountains, oceans, etc. are not there primarily for their utility. Scientists could tell you all about their uses (except maybe the sunsets… they could tell you the cause of a sunset, but its use?), but their primary nature is beauty! We do need beauty, in a sense. But He didn’t have to include it, by any means. The colors, tastes, and smells He has put in this world are a lavish extravagance (although He can easily afford it).

This, in spite of His knowledge that we would love and worship the gifts instead of the Giver. He could have given us nothing, let us see His glory alone. Doubtless we would not have fallen then. There would be nothing to forbid. But in spite of that, He still gave. Knowing it would ultimately lead to the death of His Son, a gift which did cost.

We should imitate Him, not simply because it’s the right thing to do, although it is. But it makes sense. God created us with a need for other people, not just for Him. He is the greatest need, and He can supply all our other needs, but other needs do exist. If we shut out other people, if we say, “I’d better look out for myself because I can’t count on anyone else to,” a part of our souls will shrivel. We can count on God to look after us. And although we can’t precisely count on them, it is a Good Thing to look to other people for help, encouragement… even gifts.

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