A neighboring church hosted a group of bell ringers from a local university to perform a concert in their full and beautiful auditorium. Exquisite woodwork adorned the foyer, and once inside, my eyes were treated with a Christmas tree, tall and adorned in white angels. Candles burned before every stained glass window. As the concert began, the minister stood before us to pray that we would receive the gospel in the bells. Soon after, a group of people walked into the nave of the auditorium, singing a carol and playing their brass bells in perfect timing, soon arranging themselves at the altar of the church, and playing Christmas carols in beautiful music.
But the prayer of the minister, a simple prayer with eloquent language, broke my heart. I received the gospel that night, and was again, reminded, that Christmas is a celebration much larger than ribbons and bows.
And yet we continue to celebrate a practice of excess during this most wonderful time of the year, for Americans will spend close to $450 billion this year for gifts to be unwrapped on just one day — gifts which will lose their meaning quickly in the mix of other gifts you and I will open.
Just a tenth of that amount could provide clean water and food for the starving of the world for an entire year. Some estimates say that one could stretch $40 billion over two years, and still provide enough sustenance for the starving.
The recipients of our gifts are people with means. They have an abundance of gifts under a tree in their home, and have spent much money to give, so much so that the practice of giving is really nothing more than the practice of trading. We exchange gifts with similar costs, and feign surprise when we unwrap a package and discover an item disliked. We have displaced the specialness and warmth of giving a gift with the thought and guilt of doing the same. Long gone are the days when one person holds some special place in our heart, and we treasure the time and the day when they can open a gift given with such thought.
We give our children the idea of gift-giving because of obligation, while on Christmas morn, there are some in our world without food and water, and we forget those people, once we are taken and consumed with an excess of things beneath a tree and the food on long tables. We participate in conversations when families are long gone, when we silently complain about the gathering of our family, or the time we wasted when giving a better gift.
We have sorely, and to our demise, confused the meaning and thrust of Christmas with packaging and tape and plastic cards.
I want to encourage you, today, to visit a website. Called the Advent Conspiracy, it is a movement designed to spur our thinking about Christmas, about our worship, about our expenses, and about true giving. I’ll say no more here, in hopes you visit, and spend a moment of your time there, today.
You may just change the way you see Christmas. I hope you do.