What have we Christians done with Christmas? What might we do with it if we seriously wanted to honor the Christ whose birth we celebrate? My family and I just enjoyed a very nice Christmas together, but I confess that I would like my Christmas to be different next year.
Jim Wallis and Scott McKnight have reminded us that “Last year, Americans spent $450 billion on Christmas. Clean water for the whole world, including every poor person on the planet, would cost about $20 billion. Let’s just call that what it is: A material blasphemy of the Christmas season.” A CNN report from just the other day mentioned that they expect $46,000,000,000.00 (it stands out more with the zeros, I think, than to just write 46 billion dollars) worth of gifts to be returned after this year’s Christmas. That is, we will have spent more than twice as much money on unwanted gifts for each other than it would cost to provide clean water for everyone on the planet.
The Christmas we celebrate (and that so many seem concerned to “defend”) is the celebration of God sending his Son so that we might have life. Not so that we might have the most outlandish celebration of materialism possible… The time to start thinking about next Christmas is not next November, but right now. Of course we will buy presents for our children. But what if we decided that next Christmas we would celebrate Christ’s coming for us by giving much more money to those in need around the world, and to projects that would have a lasting impact, than we would give to friends and family who will still be more prosperous than most people around the world even if they receive much less under the tree, but are given the opportunity to join in with us.
The family of one of the couples in our church small group decided that for Christmas this year they would send World Vision enough money to pay for a home for orphaned children ($5,100), and they kindly invited the rest of us to join in with them. World Vision has a whole set of similar gift options that are “too big for a box and a bow,” things that cost between $300 and $39,000. Other organizations provide similar opportunities to make our giving about much more than, as Wallis put it, “a material blasphemy of the Christmas season.” Wouldn’t it be something if within a few years from now Christmas celebrations in American had begun to shift in their emphasis to such a degree that the new orientation was as ubiquitous as the latest Apple product? I realize such a change would have a huge impact on the US economy, but surely we could find a way to deal with that…
Luke 8:8-11 tells us that the first to get the news on that first Christmas morning were some shepherds out in their fields. The news was given to them rather than to Caesar Augustus or to Quirinius, governor of Syria (both of whom are mentioned in the first verse of the chapter) to remind us that the news of this savior is not news just for the top 1%, or even the top 20 or 80 percent, but “good news that will cause great joy for all the people”: