Advent is the four weeks preceding Christmas. It means the coming of Christ. Do we pause first to ponder that marvel, that incomprehensibly holy event, or are we more likely to forget it in the race to the mall?
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
For many folks Christmastime means a great deal of hard work (or a load of guilt because they didn’t do much about it!). Must we insist on giving people more things they neither want nor need? How much “stuff” is too much? “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Does gift giving have to be frantic? Consider the time and energy it takes to get to the mall, perhaps taking children along and (of course) feeling duty-bound to make sure they join the long line to sit on Santa’s lap (and if you allow them to “believe in Santa Claus” what do the poor little tykes make of the one in the mall and the three others on the street corner?). Confronted with the stupefying array of junk calculated to subdue the courage of any loving soul, where does one begin? Desperation sets in. Purchases are reluctantly made. You hope the recipients will be thrilled, but there’s a strong chance they’ll be trekking it back to the store on December 26.
I’m really not a Scrooge. Gift-giving is a lovely thing of which I have countless times been the recipient. There are those who seem to have “an educated heart”—the ability to know just what will bring delight. If you haven’t that ability, you can be pretty sure that a gift certificate, a check, or comestibles will be happily received.
May I make a timid suggestion for those who feel it a moral obligation to buy things? Dump the fliers and catalogues that lure you to the stores. Surely it is not necessary for everyone to elbow his way into the pushing, shoving throng. I would hope that some, perhaps for the first time, will try staying home. A man in the nineteenth century said, “The fretfulness of our spirits is more hurtful than the heaviness of our burden.” You may be among the least frantic and harried if you simply stay home. Put on some gentle music, get out the recipe file, and bake something—a few loaves of bread, a batch of fudge sauce, some brownies. Anyone can bake brownies, and who doesn’t enjoy receiving them? It’s work, of course, but nowhere nearly as exhausting as shopping. One can be quiet. One can think. One might even sing some carols and pray.
Now hear this—a great suggestion. A friend told me that her family avoids all the delirium and desperation by keeping Christmas only for its spiritual significance, contemplating the wondrous story at home and worshipping at church. Then on January 6 they have a celebration with gift-giving, as the tradition of the Wise Men’s arrival indicates. Think about it. Perhaps you’ll try it.
**Excerpt originally published in the November/December Newsletter 1998.