My family has a holiday tradition of going to see a movie the night of Thanksgiving and then again on Christmas. It’s not a particularly innovative or interesting tradition, but with all of us being grown up and spread out it’s the only time we get to have a family outing anymore.
As we were leaving the theater I decided to swing by Best Buy to see what sort of line had begun to form for their midnight Black Friday opening. Not surprisingly it looked like people had been camped out for several hours. The line back up all the way to the corner of the store.
Then we turned the corner. The line wrapped around the corner.
Then we drove down the side of the store. The lined continued down the side of the store.
Then we drove around the back of the store. Not only was the line wrapped around the back of the store, but it continued into the back parking lot and loading dock, zig zagging around trailers, a dumpster, and cars.
Such is the insanity of Christmas.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And I don’t just mean the obvious, that we don’t all have to camp out the night before to snag great deals.
What if we stopped passing out junk at Christmas to people that don’t really need more stuff, and instead started giving real gifts to people who are really in need?
Here’s what I mean….
A few years ago my wife and I decided to do something somewhat radical for Christmas. We decided not to get each other Christmas gifts.
It wasn’t because we didn’t have the money.
It wasn’t because Scrooge is our personal hero and we loathe Christmas.
It wasn’t because we’re lazy and don’t want to hunt for gifts for each other. (Although, I must admit we don’t miss that stress.)
We were tired of fighting the Christmas rush for stuff that would probably end up in the trash in a few years. We were tired of stressing over finding “just the right thing” for each other. We were tired of not being able to actually enjoy Christmas for all of the craziness.
Most of all, we were tired of pretending that at Christmas time we were doing anything that was remotely Christ-like.
So, we gave up getting each other Christmas presents and we bought a goat.
Hang with me here for a second and I’ll explain why.
For Christians, Christmas is the season of Advent, the time when we celebrate God’s gift of Himself to the world for our salvation. The tradition of giving gifts goes all the way back to the wise men from the east who came to visit the infant Jesus, bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Every year, the thought is, the church reenacts this moment by giving gifts to each other.
But I don’t think many of us would argue that this holy act has been turned into a moment of materialism, selfishness, and greed.
In the biblical narrative, the gift of the wise men was meant to symbolize the kingship of Jesus. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were costly, royal gifts. But if we take another look at the nativity story, I think we can find a better model for gift giving, than simply giving each other “nice stuff.”
Take a moment, step back, and look at the bare bones of this story. What’s going on? A poor family, who is confined (most likely) to a cave because they couldn’t find a place to stay the night, is visited by strangers of means who bestow upon them gifts whose value could significantly change their lives.
Now take a moment, step back, and look at what we do for Christmas. What’s going on? We buy our family and friends (and sometimes ourselves) stuff that will entertain us or maybe make us look good for a little while. Strangers without means usually don’t make it on our Christmas shopping list.
Not very “Christmasy” if you really think about it that way.
This is why I think we should ditch the gifts and buy goats for Christmas.
Or a cow.
Or mosquito nets.
Or a well.
Or school for an orphan.
Or safe harbor for victims of the global sex trade.
Obviously you can’t pick these things up at Wal-Mart. You’re going to need to get a “gift catalogue” from someone like World Vision or Heifer International. There’s a new one out each year, packed with ways to radically change people’s lives. Look through it, pick out something, and change the world.
This is our new Christmas tradition.
Our World Vision catalog comes in the mail sometime around November. We pour over its pages and we cry. We cry at the fact that only $50 stands in the way of hope and safety for sexually exploited girls, that it only takes $70 to send an orphan to school for an entire year, or that a mere $18 can buy bed nets that will quite literally save the lives of an entire family.
We cry because we realize that all the money we’ve been spending on junk for ourselves could have saved someone’s life.
I realize that the idea of fundamentally changing Christmas from a time of stuff giving to a moment of life giving might not be realistic.
But what’s realistic about a teenage girl giving birth to the savior of the world? What’s realistic about a baby being God incarnate? What’s realistic about a God who chooses to let His people kill Him, rather than destroy them in His just wrath? What’s realistic about a dead man coming back to life and walking out of his own tomb? What’s realistic about uneducated fishermen dropping their nets and changing the world?
Nothing. But such is the reality of the kingdom of God.
You don’t have to wholesale abandon Christmas presents this year. And I’m not telling you to break your child’s heart with empty space under the tree on Christmas morning.
But what if you began simply, by getting together as a family and choosing to give up 1 thing together so that with that money you could save someone’s life that you’ve never met.
Imagine what would happen if we stopped waiting in crazy lines at Best Buy every Christmas and instead we all bought goats.
Christmas would be less stressful.
We might actually enjoy the holidays.
Gifts of life would replace temporary junk.
The world would change.
Things would never be the same.
The kingdom of God would come to earth.
And Christmas would once again be a holy moment truly worth celebrating.
You can buy a new sweater, a video game, or an iPad anytime of year. This Christmas, buy a goat.
Grace and peace,