Behold, the holiday season approacheth, and when we say “holiday season” we mean, by and large, Christmas. Thanksgiving is a big deal to be sure, and grocers and home decor retailers look forward to that day with breath bated and fingers crossed. Halloween too is a financial bonanza for candy retailers and, a few years down the road, dentists and bariatric surgeons. But Christmas is the holy grail of the holiday season. All of the business concerns mentioned above plus a galaxy of other purveyors of toys, clothing, tools, jewelry and every other conceivable commodity up to and including fruitcake lick their chops and compete with each other gladiatorially for their share of the mega billion dollar pie which will be divided up between Thanksgiving night and Christmas Eve. Even the President’s economic policies will be celebrated or panned according to the holiday fervor that will be expressed at cash registers and internet shopping sites these next two months. And all of this is to celebrate – – – Christmas?
Many have lamented the commercialization of Christmas before and it is not my intention to harp on that theme now. Christmas in America is, well, Christmas, Xmas, The Holliday Season, or whatever anyone wants to call it, and I will not presume to lecture anyone about how they should conduct themselves during this time. My primary sphere of interest as concerns this season is to be found in how I conduct myself at this time, and I now propose to describe the manner of my celebration and the reason why I choose to celebrate in that manner.
To begin with, Christmas is the time when I pay special attention to the fact that Jesus was born. You know, Jesus. The Jewish kid born to a homeless couple two thousand years ago who had a short but remarkable career preaching that God loves the little, overlooked folk and pointed out that the authority for His teaching lay in the fact that He was actually God Himself. Well, part of the Trinity really, but we’ll set that aside for now. I don’t really know just what day Jesus was born on, and frankly I don’t care. December 25 is as good a day as any, so it is just fine with me.
The whole concept of gift-giving is an interesting topic all by itself, but again I will limit my comments to why I give and how I chose to do so. Jesus and His life provide my model. Somewhere between Christmas day and two years later some really rich guys showed up and gave some very expensive gifts to baby Jesus. I would bet that Jesus was not like the baby in the commercial that is trading stocks; He no doubt squalled and nursed and pooped in His diapers just like any other kid does. Jesus’ parents almost certainly converted that gold, frankincense and myrrh into hard currency and used that money to pay the bills and finance their flight to Egypt to avoid the murderous soldiers of the paranoid King Herod.
Later, Jesus was famous for distributing funds to the poor and needy of the province of Judea. He made a point of the fact that He didn’t have a place of His own to lay His head, but depended on the generosity of others as He passed out the gifts and offerings which came in as a result of His preaching and teaching. Judas the betrayer even complained that a very expensive vial of perfume that a follower broke over Jesus’ head could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor, although many suspect that Judas had his hand in the till and really didn’t care so much about the poor after all. Still, Judas’ complaint points out that the usual pattern for Jesus was to eschew luxury and pass on to the needy the things that they needed to survive one more day, and that point brings the whole topic of giving to my own personal doorstep.
My inclination is to celebrate Christmas the way the Three Wise Men did and the way Jesus did Himself. As regards the Three Kings of Orient, I am as rich as they were in the eyes of poor people living in Africa, Asia, Latin America on reservations in the United States and elsewhere. One little pot of gold probably didn’t stretch the Wise Man who brought it to Jesus, and a check for one or two or three hundred dollars to brighten the life of a family in Chad or Bolivia wouldn’t really stretch me all that much. Heck, I spend that much every two weeks for groceries. More than a new sweater for my wife, a computer game for my granddaughter, or a Made In Washington gift box for my brother, a gift to a family in Africa of rice, millet, some chickens or a goat and a few, and I do mean few, dollars to spend on something just for fun for a change, is a gift that I believe to be worth giving.
At home there are myriad individuals, groups and agencies who are dedicated to making life better for the shadow people living at the margins where I don’t have to see them in my comfortable middle class world. These individuals, groups and agencies are blessed by every dollar given to them and they, in turn, bless the very people who Jesus came to minster to and hang out with. Instead of a toy or some other item which will be forgotten by the time that the Super Bowl is played, money given to these recipients will truly fulfill the definition of a gift in my estimation and will be worth the effort of giving.
There will be elements of stress in this holiday season for me. Many people cannot grasp the point of my gift-giving philosophy, and the label of ‘Scrooge’ will inevitably be invoked. I do not intend to be the negative manifestation of Scrooge at all. Rather, I hope to channel the Scrooge who emerged from the ordeal of the three visitations and lived a life of giving generously to those who were truly in need. Also like Scrooge, I purpose to give to my family, my friends, and my community the gift of myself; my time, my relationship, my friendship, and my genuine interest in their lives. But then, why should I wait until Christmas to do that?