With Christmas quickly approaching, many people are beginning to feel the pressure: additional church and social activities to attend; menus to plan; houses to clean; food to buy. And gifts! If you're like most folks, it's almost impossible to figure out what to buy for the people on your Christmas list. Why? Because they already have everything you can think of.
So what do you do? You give Grandma her 137th box of dusting powder or her 15th pair of house slippers. Grandpa gets yet another flannel shirt, and you can already see brother-in-law Bob's forced smile as he says, "Hey, golf balls! I can always use more of these."
But in truth, Grandpa crams the shirt into the drawer that's already stuffed with still-packaged shirts, still-banded socks and boxes of handkerchiefs, commenting to Grandma as he does so: "I don't know where I'm gonna put another thing. I don't even have room to hang up another shirt in my closet."
Grandma shoves her dusting powder into the stash where she keeps all the other gifts she's received and doesn't need. (At least she plans to put hers to use -- it'll end up as a present for someone else sometime this year.) And Bob? He'll take the golf balls to work and give them to a coworker who's just taken up the links game: "Thought you might could use these. I've got buckets of 'em, and I don't use this kind anyway."
Are these people ungrateful? No. Which is why they graciously accept your gifts rather than offend you by telling you that they really don't need what you're offering. And you, O gift-giver? Haven't you been on the other end of this gift game as well?
Your whole family is probably familiar with the cycle of this scenario. You know you haven't come up with a gift that will really be needed, but at least whatever you bought enabled you to check off one item from your list of Christmastime obligations. In other words, every single one of you players has simply gone through the motions.
Can we be totally honest for a minute here? Where does this kind of gift-giving honor Jesus? The gift-giver has spent money -- and in many cases, used credit -- to unenthusiastically buy gifts for people who unenthusiastically receive them, and the recipients have taken possession of goods they aren't likely to ever put to use. If you see your Christmas gift-giving in this picture, you have to admit that something about it is more than a little bit weird.
Or let's say you and your extended family draw names. You set a $20 limit for each gift and then begin passing hints to everyone so that whoever drew your name will have some idea of what you want him to get you. Or in other cases, it's the person who drew your name who is sending emissaries to delve into your wishes. Let's face it. Why not skip the name-drawing and simply spend your $20 on yourself? Then everyone can show up with his own package, knowing full well they're going to love what's in it before it's ever opened.
If you think that sounds crazy, do you know about this one? When we finally admit that none of us need anything and there's no point in buying presents or drawing names, we invent games like "Dirty Santa." Each person brings a wrapped gift -- oftentimes the most ridiculous thing he can think of -- which is placed on a table or in the floor with the other party guests' presents. Each person draws a number from a box or hat, and whoever draws number 1 gets to choose the first gift. That person opens it so everyone can see what it is. Then number 2 chooses a gift and opens it. If this person prefers the other person's gift, he can take that person's gift away and substitute his own. This continues with each person opening a gift and then keeping it or taking someone else's.
What a blast, huh? What a great way to celebrate Christmas! And all because we've run out of ideas for things we can give to each other.
Let's say you're planning to spend $20 on each of the 10 people in your extended family. Do the math; that's $200. And let's say that everyone is planning to reciprocate; that's $200 per person. When the figures are totaled and the gift wrap's all settled, the 11 of you (you and the 10 others) have spent $2,200. And for what? To buy stuff none of you really needed.
Cornelius, a gentile and the leader of an Italian regiment, was, according to Acts 10:2 (HCSB), "... a devout man ...[who] feared God...." No doubt his position afforded him material possessions in abundance. We can be sure that Cornelius met his family's needs and fulfilled their wants. Yet when an angel of the Lord appeared to him and spoke to him, the angel didn't comment on his family's "well-to-do-ness." What he did say was that, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God" (Acts 10:4, NIV).
In Galatians 2:9-10, the Apostle Paul recounts that Peter, James and John's request of him and Barnabas was that they "... would remember the poor" (HCSB) as they followed God's call to the gentiles. Jesus said in Mark 14:7, "You always have the poor with you, and you can do good for them whenever you want...." (HCSB). Jesus' compassion for the poor is evident throughout the Gospels. Likewise, it's to be evident in those of us who are indwelled by His Spirit.
Instead of aiming your Christmas spending at those who already have plenty, why not target those less fortunate, as Jesus would have us to do? Imagine what $2,200 could do for a local mission. Imagine what it could do for a family whose father is out of work or whose mother is undergoing treatment for cancer. And while you're at it, imagine how going together to deliver such a gift will change the focus of Christmas for your family.
But don't stop at giving the gift of money -- offer them the greatest gift in existence, new life in Jesus the Savior! Your children and others are learning by watching your example. Don't you want them to know the truth of Christmas -- that it truly is "more blessed to give than to receive?" (the words of Jesus, Acts 20:35, HCSB).
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 16, 2003.]
Judy Woodward Bates is a freelance writer, author, speaker and creator of Bargainomics, a Bible-based time and money management philosophy, and the author of The Gospel Truth about Money Management. Visit her website at www.bargainomics.com.