Should Christians Give Christmas Gifts?
About two years ago, I had an epiphany about the shallow, consumerism of today’s “holiday season” and I became infuriated. On my way back to my dorm from class, I called my mom and shouted “WE ARE NOT EXCHANGING GIFTS THIS CHRISTMAS!” She responded slowly, “Okaaaaay… what is it this time?” and I expressed to her that our American Consumerism has completely blinded us from the true meaning of Christmas and that giving gifts is to disrespect Jesus in the worst fashion; I truly thought that I was the first one to think this (naïve, right?). Processing my lengthy rant, she laughed, “That actually works quite well because we didn’t want to get you anything anyway. You are more than welcome to pray for us while we open gifts this year.”
After my emotional conviction had subsided and I had a minute to calm myself down, I decided to take a hard look at the story of Jesus’ birth and as I read in Matthew, something that I have been hearing for years popped off the page like it was the first time I had read it: the magi brought Jesus gifts. Bowing at His bedside, they presented this infant baby with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I am not sure about you, but those are just a hair outside my price range this year. But I guess because I had heard this story year after year, I had never taken the time to pause for a minute on the implications of this part of the story.
Three kings travel for what is said to have been about two years, finally arriving to Nazareth of all places, and without skipping a beat, bow in reverence to an infant while they give this child probably some of the most expensive items that Jesus will have even seen over the course of His life. This is not news; this is some of the most fundamental pieces of Christian history to have ever existed, but in that moment, I took a minute to ask myself, “By this point in Jesus’ life, what has He done to deserve those gifts?”
Unless you are aware of an earlier miracle that I am not, the answer is nothing! He has not done anything up until this point but probably eat, cry, and sleep. Yet, three total strangers, higly regarded Jewish leaders with the humanly power and stature with which the “King of Kings” was supposed to enter the world, show up and present gold to the messianic baby that probably needed His diaper changed.
Did the magi misinterpret the angel? Time answers that question quite beautifully as we continue reading through the Gospel of Matthew. However for the purposes of this particular story, I would argue that instead, maybe the Spirit used Matthew’s story of the magi, as well as Luke’s about the shepherds, to exemplify humility. In the same way that it humbles me to know that a few lowly shepherds were the first to meet the Messiah, it is also humbling to know that to that same Messiah, these highly esteemed officials also came bearing gifts that may have exceeded their budget by a few denarii as well.
Going back to the conversation with my mom, I decided not to be Scrooge that Christmas but instead, I took that specific Christmas morning to recognize the humility of both the shepherds and the magi; the simplicity of the nativity story; and the idea that even today, we can put those same principles into action as we humbly receive what we do not deserve and we humbly give out of respect and reverence to those we love by the grace which has already been imparted to us by the crucified savior born as a baby in Bethlehem. And it is inside of that grace that you, too, might pause for even a moment on the idea that we do not deserve a savior because we needed one, and that same savior did not deserve to die but He chose to, because in humility God first loved us.
Merry Christmas Everyone,
(Also, don’t forget to check out our Christmas Eve in the Round!)