Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas--it's more than just gifts

November 27, put up my Christmas tree. 4 weeks until Christmas Day.
For some reason, every year I seem to entertain different emotions, ideas, insights, or whatever you might call them.
A couple years ago, I really got into the themes of Advent, and lots of memories of Christmases past.
Last year, not nearly so prolific on the musings.
This year has its own unique flavor.

Since I’ve been contemplating Kingdom principles on many different levels for months now, and with the whole Occupy Wall Street movement stirring up a new awareness of the emptiness and greed of capitalism, I’m really not looking too positively at the whole Buy, Buy, Buy thing.
And then today as I was letting the nearness of Christmas waft around my mind, I had a revelation.
For all of the push for buying wonderful gifts for everyone on your list, gift giving is really a small part of celebrating Christmas.
How long does it take to buy, wrap, mail, deliver, etc. the gifts? A fair amount of time.
How long does it take for the recipient to open them ? Mere moments.
And then it’s back to those things that Christmas really is about.
You wait forever it seems (at least it feels like forever when you are a kid) for that moment when you get to gather around the tree and open the gifts.
You wait weeks and weeks.
And in literally minutes it’s all over.
As a family, long ago we got in the habit of taking turns opening our gifts. That way we would actually get to watch each other open what we had bought for them.
But even then, it didn’t take 30 minutes for the party to come to a crashing end.
But the good thing is, for all of the $$$ spent on the gifts, Christmas is about so much more.
(And no, this isn’t a sermon about keeping Christ in Christmas. I may yet rain on that particular misguided and hypocritical parade, but not in this post.)

Whether you are a person of deep Christian faith or not, here are some of the things that make Christmas meaningful. Things that actually take up a lot more of your time and effort, and also end up meaning a lot more than the gift bags around the tree.
Music. Whether it’s a special concert, listening to the old traditional vinyl, singing the carols in church or on someone’s doorstep, music is a wonderful part of our Christmas celebrating. Bing Crosby still tugs at the heart, even though ‘White Christmas’ is now 70 years old. This is a genre where all ages can make music together.

Food. I don’t think I have to explain this one. But Christmas dinner isn’t the only time food and special company figure in our celebrations. Between the work Christmas party, the eggnog with friends, baking cookies, or the special meals for kids home for Christmas, there are many, many special moments spent over a special meal.

Lights, trees, decorations. We all have some special memories of a particular Christmas ornament. Maybe the one you made in Grade 1, but that one is probably the special one on your parent’s tree, not yours. And then after all the decorating is done, you get to sit and absorb that old, comfortable, traditional atmosphere. Crackling fire (even if it’s only on TV), hot apple cider, and a piece of that Christmas baking. And if you weren’t rushing around trying to get every last bit of shopping done, you could even enjoy the ambiance more.
Family. Sure, some of us aren’t quite so sure about the annual visit from Great Aunt Hildegarde, or maybe your Mom’s new ‘attachment’, but by and large, family is particularly important at Christmas. It’s one of those seasons when we usually think past the surface tension to the deep awareness that family is who will stick with you longer than anyone else.
Friends. If the family thing doesn’t work well for you (and there are certainly those who battle the most royally with their family members), we do tend to have friends. Probably a few very close ones. And those are the ones you hang out with whenever you can—and not just at Christmas. But we create special occasions at Christmas to celebrate those relationships. One of the strengths of these relationships is that they don’t require a fancy gift to prove their existence—a cup of hot chocolate is just as effective.
Spiritual. Nearly everyone has memories of some kind of inner experience connected with Christmas. It might be the Christmas Eve service at church. The choir. The kids. Or maybe the peace that settled down in your spirit along with the gently falling snow. Maybe it’s that when everything is done—the house decorated (inside and out), the baking done, the shopping done (including wrapping, mailing, etc.), the house cleaned, the turkey in the oven, and so on—then you pause and remember that Christmas is, after all, the story of God showing up on earth as a human. Bringing joy. Bringing peace. Bringing love.

Oh yes, love. Love keeps sneaking into all of our Christmas celebrating, if we let it.
The love within the family (at least some part of it!).
Love for your friends.
Love for the little kids that are a part of your life.
The love in giving gifts. And receiving them.
Loving good food, and good music, and beauty.

Lately I’ve been realizing that one of the greatest gifts that Jesus brought was the understanding that God isn’t some big, mean ogre.
If Jesus shows us what God is like, then God is the lovingest, mercifulest, kindest being you could ever, ever imagine.
And we get to experience that love, and pass it along.
Sure, a gift can demonstrate love.
But so can sharing a special time with a special friend over coffee and a cookie.
So can singing Christmas carols in the park with a gang of untrained, but exuberant voices.
So can sitting beside the tree with your dearly beloved.
So don’t get all hung up on the gift buying. Going into debt isn’t loving anyone except your bank, and they don’t tend to know how to deal much in the currency of love.
Instead of trying to fill everyone’s gift list, fill their love tank instead.
‘Cause really, they’ll spend a lot more time eating your baking and enjoying your company than they will opening your gift.


Your Friend Aaron said...

Thanks, Al. Merry Christmas.

(and thanks for "mercifulest"!)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I have been giving thought to what to send to Victoria for Christmas.

How to send butter tarts--not so good an idea. Well, yes, they can be sent. Just not successfully. Unless you like minute crumbs. Because mine after all, are very flaky :)

That soap on a rope from my childhood to a brother who always claimed he needed just that very thing and was likely running out that very day. Not sure they make those any more.

I sent cozy jammie bottoms and a hat with ear flaps last year so you might be good with those still.

Your post makes me wonder if the best thing I could do for you is give a bit more to our food bank this year. Maybe one more gift for the Kinsmen Wish Box.

And you can do the same for us :)

xoxox Sister Dearest

Al said...

You are so welcome, Aaron, anytime!

Sister dearest: yes, well, the butter tarts would certainly be a treat if they arrived intact, but that is not likely.
Yes, the ear flappy toque thingy is still a hit. It is perfect for a chilly evening out with CARTS, and I have already worn it a couple times this season.
Regarding this year? Whatever feels like being Jesus where you are. If it is a toy for some kid who might otherwise go without, or ditto for some food, then go for it. Figure out a way of putting a bit of your own heart into it, whatever you decide on. (And if you let me know what you did, then I can rejoice along with you.)

James Harrison said...

So glad I read this early in the Christmas season, not as conviction afterwards. Thanks Al!

Al said...

Thanks, James. I guess that's why I was moved to write it as early in the season as I did--just for you!

James Harrison said...


ron cole said...

Love your christmas ingredients...thank you for the reminder. Too often this time year we don't unwrap the reality of christmas deep discover it really is a gift that has the potential to change the world. Thanks my friend.

Toyin O. said...

So true, it is the love we give this Christmas and not the gifts that matters.


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