Being a follower of Jesus Christ, I celebrate the birthday of Jesus on December 25, as do billions of other Christians around the world. No one knows for certain the exact date Jesus was born, but December 25 seems as good a day as any to observe His birth.
The Bible tells us wise men – “magi” – traveled a very long distance to bring gifts to the newborn baby who would become the Savior of the world. Because of that, it has become a tradition for friends and family to give gifts to each other as part of the global celebration.
Giving and receiving gifts is one of the languages of love, a nice way to show people that we care about them and want to make an emotional connection with them. Thinking about a person and taking the time to select something we believe they would enjoy is a very real part of any relationship.
It does seem, however, we have taken this custom to the extreme as more and more people forget about honoring Jesus and pour their energies instead into spending money they do not have for reasons that are not always easy to justify. That is one reason I enjoy going to “white elephant” gift parties.
The original white elephant concept involved giving one’s enemies a gift they had to spend money to house and maintain, without receiving any real benefit from it. A white elephant gift amounts to a useless object that creates a hardship for the recipient. Although this practice was conceived with malice of intent, the modern version is usually taken as a joke, resulting in a lot of fun.
Several years ago my wife and disposed of 75 percent of our possessions, moved from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment, and pledged to live more simply and tread more lightly on the earth. From that point of view, we realized most gifts would be white elephants, because it turns out it can be a lot harder to sell something or give it away than it is to buy it in the first place.
Maybe the time has come for us to change our Christmas emphasis from buying things to remembering some of the principles Jesus gave to us. He taught many things, but His central message was love and forgiveness. He pointed out anybody can love their friends; the real test is being able to love your enemies and forgiving those that hate you.
I think Christmas closely preceding the New Year is a wonderful idea. What better way to start a calendar year fresh than to follow Jesus’ teaching and forgive those who have wronged us and seek to reconcile with anyone we have had tense relationships with during the course of the previous year?
Let me make a suggestion as we celebrate Christmas and anticipate the close of 2012: Next year let us Spend Less, Love More, Forgive Everyone, Serve Others.
If you make a sincere attempt at doing these things, I believe you will experience positive results beyond anything you could have imagined. Remember, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but to save it through him” (John 3:16-17).
Jim Mathis is the owner of a photography studio in Overland Park, Kansas, specializing in executive, commercial and theatrical portraits, and operates a school of photography. Jim is the author of High Performance Cameras for Ordinary People, a book on digital photography. He formerly was a coffee shop manager, and executive director of CBMC in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.
1. How do you and your family celebrate Christmas? How much emphasis do you place on the exchanging of gifts?
2. Do you think too much emphasis is placed on gift giving at Christmas, and not enough focus is given to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ? Explain your answer.
3. Are you familiar with the practice of giving “white elephant gifts”? Mr. Mathis observes that many of the things we possess amount to white elephants because they are not essential for everyday living and often are more trouble to maintain than they are worth. Do you agree? Why or why not?
4. What steps could you make to ensure that Jesus, whose birth is commemorated every Christmas, becomes more central to your own personal celebration of this day?
If you would like to look at or discuss other portions of the Bible that relate to this topic, consider the following brief sampling of passages:
Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-5; Romans 5:15-17, 6:23; 2 Corinthians 9:12-15; James 1:17