Tuesday, December 4, 2007

rethinking Christmas part II

Perhaps the most obvious distraction from Christ at Christmas is consumerism. I would dare go so far as to say that the primary reason we (adults and children alike) get excited about Christmas is because of the giving and receiving of gifts that takes place. Yes, the food is good. Being with family and friends is wonderful. But, giving and getting stuff wins the spotlight every time.

I’d like you to check out a blog entry from thinkchristian.net. I shared this at a worship gathering of The Well a few weeks back. It addresses the consumerism at Christmas issue and has some links to other sites with suggestions for alternatives to a consumer Christmas. http://www.thinkchristian.net/index.php/2006/12/03/taking-the-consumerism-out-of-christmas/

Let me close with a few thoughts. First, with regard to Christmas, I think every Christ follower ought to wonder: “Is this how Jesus would want us to celebrate His coming to earth?” Now, don’t brand me a Scrooge when it comes to gift-giving. I’m giving and receiving gifts this Christmas. But, I think we’ve become way too distracted by festivities and traditions that don’t even remotely reflect the good news that Jesus repeatedly said was “good news to the poor” (Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:18; Luke 7:22). And so I’ll again raise the question that I’m going to return to throughout my little blogging mini-series: “What do we do at Christmas that really reflects the change-the-world reality of Christ’s birth?”


Tab said...

I'd say that naming gifts as one of the main reasons we enjoy Christmas is painting with quite a broad brush. I enjoy giving gifts...especially to my kids. I take into account their personality, their likes, dislikes...basically who they are and give them what it is that delights them. It's a reflection of how God feels about me. It's not because I want accolades for the perfect gift but because I desire to give to my children. Of course, we skew off track if giving is the only way we bless our children...

I could care less about receiving gifts. Brad and I buy each other a gift from the kids so that they know the joy of giving a gift. My favorite part of Christmas is going home and spending time with my family. I love going to church on Christmas Eve (truly my favorite part of Christmas), Krug Park with the kids, pajamas from my mom (don't ask), tea with the Smiths, Big Band Christmas music, etc. Basically, I love living the life that God gave me. I think that's a pretty huge gift to give. Acknowledging that all the joy and all the happiness I have is because of some jewish kid born in a barn on an unspecified date. I have the life I have because that kid grew up and gave his life for me. The biggest gift I can give to Jesus is living my redeemed life in a manner that is obedient and honoring to Him and telling others about that Jewish kid born in a barn a couple thousand years ago.

Jesus isn't opposed to lavish gifts...evidence is found in Matthew 26.


Ryan S. Poe said...

Hey Tab…
It’s great to hear from you. Thanks for taking time to check in on my blog. My “broad brush” strokes come from reflecting on my own heart—both as a child and now as an adult. But, the stats on the blog I linked to tell me that I’m not the only one who feels that gift giving has become too much the focal point. And that was really the point of this blog. It’s not that gift giving is bad (although I think that overconsumption and giving in excess is bad). My concern is that gift giving has distracted us from giving the gift of good news to those who really need some good news.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you say, “the biggest gift I can give to Jesus is my living my redeemed life in a manner that is obedient and honoring to Him and telling others about that Jewish kid born in a barn….”

To obey and honor Him means a lot of things, not the least of which is that we go to the poor, the abused, the oppressed, the outcast. Jesus routinely and intentionally hung out with them in His day. Today, we find nearly 2 billion of them living in extreme poverty. As many as 36 million of them suffer from AIDS. We hear about them in the reports that over 29,000 kids die everyday of preventable causes. And, as I’m sure you know, this list goes on and on. The Christmas angels remind us that this good news of great joy is for all people (Luke 2:10). And Jesus has sent us to them (John 20:21).

I’m getting a little ahead of myself by asking this (as I intend to make this the topic of an upcoming blog), but I’m wondering what things we Christians do that are really all that different from what non-Christians do at Christmas. Attending special “church” services…yes. Reading the Christmas story…yes. But many of the things that you listed above are things that, I imagine, all people, Christians and non, do in one form or another at Christmas. And I wholeheartedly believe that those things are ALL gifts from God—even to those who aren’t followers, as Jesus reminded us that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good (Matt 5:45). You don’t have to answer that question and I hope you know that I’m not trying to pick on you.

But, I do have a bone to pick in relation to the Matthew 26 passage. Scholars agree that what Jesus was doing there was a one time exception to the “give to the poor” rule. The woman who poured perfume on Jesus was symbolically preparing Jesus’ body for burial. And Jesus basically says, “hey, when I’m gone, you’ll still have the poor to give to, but right now I’m here and I’m about to die, so what she is doing is necessary.” Jesus says a similar thing about his disciples and fasting in Luke 5:33-35 and we should read Matthew 26 in the same fashion. This passage is not intended as a justification for us to spend lavishly on one another.

Wow, that’s a lot more than I intended to write. But, I do enjoy the interaction. I’m kind of a nerd that way—but you know that, eh?

Brad and Tab said...

Dinner will be fun! :-)

Understanding where one another comes from may be a bit helpful. Culturally, we’re probably coming from two different places. Brad and I live and work among some (not all) for whom providence and choices have dealt a hard blow. I deal with poverty, abuse of every kind, neglect, death, marital disarray, financial mishandling and temporarily fatherless children on a daily basis. I’m fortunate to see the incredible giving that goes on where I live. I see the churches and Christians who are sacrificial in their giving and meeting the needs of the needy. I’m also a notorious glass half full kinda gal! A bit Pollyanna at times. I’ve also seen pro-social justice churches refuse to help military families out of of fear of supporting war.

I don’t disagree about overconsumption. Brad and I have a hard and fast rule about debt and Christmas and keeping things in perspective. I do think that culturally, as Americans, we fill the void of love and appreciation with “things”. I hope Christians are different, though I know not all are. But what can I do about their overconsumption? All I know to do is not be like that and influence my children about what it really means to celebrate Christmas. However, the opposite of overconsumption is not nonconsumption (I’m pretty sure we’re making up words now! :-P ) just like the opposite of drunk is not teetotaling. I know you’re not anti gift giving…btw so don’t think that this is a diatribe against you! That’s not what that’s intending to say. However, we have to be careful of a legalistic mindset that says if overdoing something is wrong then complete abstinence is right. Make sense? It can quickly send us down a judgmental road that has us judging those who consume when we feel they ought not.

A big part of all of this is learning to live a balanced life. There are things that we can overdue…consumption, alcohol, food, internet, reading (yikes!), music, tv, movies, etc. What sets us apart is an ability to prioritize with Christ and the things required of us as our top priority.

After all of that I’ll get to your question finally! I think that the state of my heart makes a lot of the things I do at Christmas different. When I do what I’m created to do and giving the glory to God then I’m worshipping the Creator. That includes time with my family, cookies with the kids, etc. If I always have in the forefront of my mind that what I do, what I have (meaning family, holiday traditions, etc)is because of God, I’m separating myself from the “non-believers” because of my attitude of thanksgiving and worship. Brad and I have had poverty level Christmas before (we’ll share the story sometime). It probably gives us a different perspective each Christmas than some.

I do have to ask, for clarification sake, what you consider to be the Good News that we’re to send to all people?

I realized after I wrote it that I misspoke what I intended to say regarding Matthew 26. My apologies. Bone fairly picked.

I love discussing this stuff. You and I probably have some very similar and yet very different opinions. That goes to what we’re called to do. If we all agreed, healthy discourse would never take place. Like you, Brad and I are fumbling in our late 20’s/ early 30's to figure out what we’re called to do and how we’re to do it. Anyway, I’m glad you’re blogging. BTW, I’m more of a short bus nerd who longs to hang with the Chess Club...so be patient!

Ryan S. Poe said...

Tab...thanks for the dialogue! I really do enjoy your perspective and am looking forward to seeing you and Brad in just a few weeks.

heather b said...

Ryan....interesting blog. It is almost midnight and I stumbled across this..Interestingly enough, last week's sermon by our new in resident teaching pastor Stan Pound-a-Beer was a lot about what your thoughts are. It has been almost a week that I have been tossing around some of his statistics and after watching on the big screen people trample one another on black Friday. My stomach has been in a general state of nausea ever since. It sort of turned my world upside down....I really have no words to put to my feelings. Just empty really. Upside down and empty and just sad. Sad that the seed of greed is so subtle; it makes me want to only ever buy goats and chickens and cattle and vegetable gardens for the rest of my years celebrating this holiday. What's another piece of crap to find a place to put in my house when I can feed a whole village?....I don't know. Its undoing really....I just read over this and I feel like I sound like Charlie Brown. But this is blogging so......."good grief."

heather b said...

o.k...I just read my comment and realized I should have before I posted it but it is late and I am running off of a caffeine buzz from Chloe's Christmas concert at school tonight. It's a tad disjointed and a little depressing. SORRY!! But anyway, I guess the point is, it was time for me. I needed to be turned upside down. I really don't ever think I will be the same after last weekend..... When I was a little girl and Sally Struthers would come on the T.V. and talk about children dying in Ethiopia after saturday kids programming was over ( I believe it was an infomercial after the Smurfs), I remember feeling such angst....and wondering why I couldn't be more like my little sister who would just say things like "Gross, look at that fly in his nose!" I didn't want to feel things that deeply. It bothered me. I felt so....old. But what last weekend did to me was awaken a realization that I had allowed the overwhelming feelings to kill the mercy that the feelings belonged to. That mercy requires one thing as a spiritual gift and that is the same as any other spiritual gift.....action. My feelings had paralyzed my doings. So, I eventually just shut the faucet off of feelings when it revolved around poverty and greed. It was honestly just too much. But things change when you have kids. Having fast growing 7 and 9 year old little girls where glimpses of their character are beginning to show themselves leaves no room for paralysis and apathy. The jig is up. Time to man up. Its now or never for me for them. Its now to show them that Christmas is about thinking of the birth of Christ and what that has meant for the world; and lets just get real and say that doesn't just mean salvation alone. It means goats and chickens and vaccines and cows and bikes and stoves and socks and clean drinking water and not worrying about your next meal. So, I'm going to try to have the balls so to speak to turn the faucet back on, sit in the emotion of it a bit and let myself do something about it.

Anyway, I could start to apologize and hope I don't offend anyone and all that stuff but its a blog right? And these are just my very shallow and caffeine scattered reflections on a difficult subject.

And Scene.

Ryan S. Poe said...

Heather...you're in a good place. I think too many people still respond to the starving Ethiopians as you did when you were a child. Sadly, many of those people call themselves Christians. Feeling angst, or nausea or whatever means you're heart isn't hard...which, of course, means God can shape it any way You'll allow Him to.

An enormous reason why I struggle with this stuff is for the sake of my kids. I got a bit emotional today telling Shannon that I thought it would be a blast on Christmas morning to brew up a giant thermos of hot chocolate, load the car up with hundreds of useful gifts and drive around, as a family, to homeless people on Christmas morning to give away gifts and hot chocolate. I imagine we'd make some incredible memories that way. Someday, when they're older, of course.

I just don't want Jake & Emily to grow up distracted by gifts. I want them to get excited about giving--especially giving to people who can't give back.

Thanks for your raw honesty, Heather. Have fun goat, chicken and vaccine shopping. I'm sure you can't get trampled by purchasing those things.

Brad and Tab said...

The Christmas day idea is a great one, Ryan.

I'll throw this out there as an idea for your readers...go visit the forgotten in a nursing home. So many elderly are just left to die without anyone to love them or appreciate their worth and value. Any nursing home would gladly point you in the direction of those who have no visitors on Christmas Day.