I have a love/hate relationship with stuff: I love getting rid of stuff because I hate it.
It’s genetic I suspect. My dad is infamous for his lifelong, one-man war on clutter. No stuff was safe around this heroic man- his stuff, your stuff, stuff in our home, stuff in other people’s homes, or even stuff at his work- all stuff was fair game.
It went like this: on a regular basis he would shift into a fugue-like state and just start chuckin’ stuff, sometimes ruthlessly and obviously, sometimes subtly and covertly. Later, when you’d ask him the whereabouts of something you loved and couldn’t live without, he’d look at you quizzically and say “Gee, I don’t know.” And he really didn’t.
But we knew. Dad had happened to it. Adios forever beloved possession.
Growing up I never understood this behavior. I was an overly sentimental saver, proud owner of several collections of worthless crap priceless treasures, and had an unquenchable desire to create beauty in my physical environment via an excess of tastefully placed, lovely “things.”
Until I became a parent.
Lots of things- quite literally- could be to blame for my dramatic attitude change towards stuff. Like how the amount of stuff we owned seemed to explode overnight. It started innocently enough with alllllll the completely unnecessary necessary baby things. Which were gradually replaced by heaps of Cheap Plastic Garbage- I’m sorry, “toys.” Or it might have been the disheartening realization that anything that enters our home has a 0% survival rate (oh please click that link, it’s the best).
I don’t know what to blame exactly, but something about having children triggered that dormant familial gene. Suddenly I not only understood my father like never before, I became him.
Now it’s me chuckin’ stuff left and right, night and day, my stuff, my kids’ stuff, or even other people’s stuff (though mostly with their permission). My dad cheers me on with tears of pride in his eyes. Because now?
I. HATE. STUFF.
Which leads me to, well… Christmas, obviously.
Oh Crap it’s Christmas
Christmas. That glorious, magical season where all the harried worshipers scramble frantically about in a desperate race to amass the STUFF that will appease the gods of our culture: Materialism, Consumerism, and the Self.
Oooohhh nooooooooo. No no no no. Wait that can’t be right.
No, see that may be the case for the unbeliever, sure, but for Christians, Christmas is
also the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world!
Our gift exchanges are more spiritually profound because we acknowledge they symbolize the gift of Jesus’s birth! Our Candy Canes are more holy because we suck on them thinking about how it’s a “J” for Jesus or the shape of His shepherd’s staff…right? For cryin’ out loud, we have a nativity in there among our stockings, snowmen, and Elf on the Shelf!
But honestly, is the way we Christians celebrate Christmas really much different from that of the secular culture around us?
Sadly, I suspect the answer is “not much.”
Think of it this way. If you or I had no previous knowledge of the holiday called “Christmas,” what conclusions would we draw simply based on observation? I’m bettin’ those conclusions would be heavy on the themes of materialism, consumerism, and self-centeredness. With maybe a dash of Jesus thrown in for looks.
We’ve missed it spectacularly.
What’s the Solution?
Ok, so how can we do Christmas in a way that truly celebrates Christ? How do we throw a birthday party for Jesus that actually looks like a party for Him and not for just about everybody else? (Thank you Pastor Anthony for illustrating that point so well in this great message. That’s my church guys!).
Because that’s what Christmas truly is: Jesus’s birthday.
Of course we can still enjoy time with family, moderate and meaningful gifts, special traditions, and even Candy Canes, etc. Who doesn’t love that fun stuff? God himself loves a good party, just read the Old Testament. So. Many. Festivals.
But let’s stop getting distracted with all the things, and make the main thing the main thing.
Not just with our words and inner beliefs, but in our actions. Outwardly. In a way that our Christmases look startlingly different. In a way that surprises people and inspires questions like “wait you do what on Christmas? Wait you don’t do ___ on Christmas? Why!?”
Now if you’re like my four year-old (he’s a sharp kid, don’t feel bad), you might be at a loss about how to make Christmas about Jesus:
“But Mom, we can’t give presents to Jesus because we can’t see him!”
I’ll tell you what I told him.
“Yes we can Son.”
(But pretend I didn’t just call you Son. Talk about off-putting.)
Jesus’s Wish List
Did you know Jesus explicitly tells us how we can give to Him? He does! For Jesus’s very own wish list, look no further (actually do) than His words in Matthew 25:35-40 (MSG):
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”
Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?”
Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
There you have it. A complete list of ways to give a physical, tangible gift to Jesus.
If you really want to celebrate Jesus this Christmas, do something for someone who is overlooked or ignored.
Instead of merely participating in yet another gift exchange, give a gift to someone who isn’t able to give one back. Then it’s a gift rather than an exchange. Then it truly imitates Jesus’s gift to us, a gift we are hopeless to repay.
Personally, I love this passage of scripture. I love how it changes my perspective.
These words transform an overlooked or ignored person from an annoyance to a blessing, because they offer us an opportunity to give to our Lord himself!
What an incredible privilege.
When we truly believe these words, we are able to approach people in undesirable situations with gratefulness and humility. Even if they were the cause of their misery, even if they were to blame.
Giving to them becomes a delight rather than a burden or obligation. It becomes a humbling experience rather than a “I’m up here and you’re down there” kind of thing that smacks of superiority.
When we do unto them, we do unto Jesus. Period.
Our Christmas is Starting to Look Different
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of a Christmas focused on the swapping of unneeded stuff, especially when there are so many people in the world with real needs.
I’m unquestionably guilty of participating in and perpetuating the indulgent, self-serving, materialistic version of Christmas. Maybe you are too.
It’s time to start making changes.
Last year we started small. We baked Jesus a birthday cake, each of us came up with something we appreciated about Jesus, and we gave Him a gift of some specific act of service.
This year, we’re stepping it up a notch.
After having an honest conversation about gift-giving, the adults in my family decided to opt out of exchanging gifts. Which as a stuff-hater, is The Best Gift Ever! (Here’s why you should consider it too, and how to broach the subject.)
Our boys will still get a few gifts from us. Things they need, like socks and underwear. And bonus for us, when you’re four-years-old, firefighter underwear counts as a real present (although maybe firefighter undies are just always an exciting gift, regardless of age..?). My parents will buy them presents too; grandparents can’t help themselves.
Overall though, we are experimenting with walking away from the frenzy of list-making, shopping, spending, wrapping and exchanging. Instead we’re attempting to focus on true generosity and giving gifts to Jesus.
We’re still thinking of exactly how we’ll spend Christmas day. Maybe we’ll load up the car with hot, home-made meals and hunt down hungry, over-looked people who live on the street (yeah I know that sounds sorta wrong, but that’s about the truth of it).
Or we’ll deliver cookies and treats to the nearby fire station (yes, my son will probably be wearing his new firefighter undies) and to other people who have to work on Christmas.
I don’t know how it will go, and I’m sure some things will work and some won’t. But I think at least we’re on the right track.
Now What About Your Christmas?
Likewise, I hope you will ask Jesus these questions yourself:
“Jesus, what would you like for Christmas from me this year?”
“Please show me someone specific, someone overlooked or ignored, and what I can give to them this Christmas”
And when He answers, remember:
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Proverbs 3:27 (NIV)
P.S. If the idea of a simpler, “more Jesus less stuff” Christmas really resonates with you, why not start the conversation with friends and family by sharing this post?
And if you’d like to read more, here’s a Helpful Guide to Simple Christmas Links courtesy of one of my favorite blogs on the topic of minimalism.
P.P.S. Do you have any special ways you celebrate Jesus’s Birthday? Specific ways you give Him gifts? I’m looking for ideas and would love your help!