An alarming number of children from Christian homes grow up grasping for every item they can lay their hands on. Children raised in such an atmosphere—which includes most children in America—are afflicted with a killer disease called “affluenza.”
Consider the typical American Christmas. When the annual obstacle course through crowded malls culminates on the Big Day, what’s the fruit? We find a trail of shredded wrapping paper and a pile of broken, abandoned, and unappreciated toys. Far from being filled with a spirit of thankfulness for all that Christmas means, the children are grabby, crabby, picky, sullen, and ungrateful—precisely because they’ve been given so much.
We love our children. So do their grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. All of us seem to think that love is measured by giving things. We say it isn’t so, but we go right on acting as if it were. Our children aren’t battery operated. Their deepest needs are spiritual, mental, and emotional, and these needs cannot be met by flashing lights and doll houses. This sometimes dawns on us, but we soon forget. Another Christmas, and again we immerse our children in things. In doing so, we mentor them in a perspective on life directly at odds with the Scriptures we seek to teach them at home and in church.
Can we change the pattern of materialism in our homes at Christmastime? Certainly. We can buy far less. We can hand make presents, set a budget, and buy presents in advance to avoid the unnerving jostling through stores. Any change is good if it helps us to focus on Christ rather than on ourselves. We can visit shut-ins or take food to the needy—to focus on giving rather than receiving.
My wife often staged a “Happy Birthday Jesus” party for our girls and their friends. Each child brought one gift personally made for Jesus. (After all, whose birthday is it?) One year, a few nights before Christmas, our family sat around a candlelit table holding hands. Then each of us said what we appreciated about the Lord. After praying together and singing Christmas carols, we shared what we appreciated about each other. It was an unforgettable evening.
If a child receives four presents, the gifts can be spread out on each of the four days before Christmas. On Christmas night, after reading Scripture and singing carols, each giver can present his or her gift in turn to the recipient. In the quietness and simplicity of the celebration, we can pray and express our gratefulness to God for his greatest of all gifts, the Lord Jesus. By taking our focus off the human receiver and putting it on the divine giver, Christmas can become a symbol of God’s giving heart rather than people’s grabbing hands.
This is only a beginning. You may wish to make more radical changes in your Christmas. When our missions pastor told our church about enslaved Christians in Sudan one November, family after family spontaneously decided to forgo Christmas presents and give instead to free the slaves. My family was among them, and it was a wonderful Christmas, made better by the knowledge that we’d given to what matters instead of exchanging more stuff we didn’t need. But even if you still exchange presents, you can make Christmas different. Don’t be victimized by the world’s materialism. Worship Christ in simplicity.
Advent Conspiracy: Nobody Wants a Christmas Worth Forgetting
The Advent Conspiracy is a grassroots movement with more than 1,000 churches in 17 countries participating as co-conspirators—with projects as varied as drilling a water well for those who lack access to clean water or simply encouraging congregations to think of meaningful acts of kindness as meaningful gift options to replace traditional Christmas gifts.
Before you think we’re getting all Scrooge on you, let us explain what we mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion every Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one. Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced something nothing less than a miracle: They have been more available to celebrate Christ during the advent season.
By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. When Advent Conspiracy first began, four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ.