For years, I never understood Christmas. Admittedly, I was a bit of a Scrooge. It just seemed like the whole thing was a farce.
Every made-for-TV movie I watched between Thanksgiving and New Year’s preached the same gospel: “It’s not about presents.” But then, every Christmas morning, I was inundated with presents. It didn’t make sense. Someone was lying.
Everything you want?
My parents, and probably yours, would conclude every December 25th with the same nervous question: “So… did you get everything you wanted?”
Are you kidding me? Everything I wanted? Is this what we want to teach our children about life? That you can get everything you want?
I remember being a kid. I NEVER got everything I wanted. (Thank God.) My parents had the best of intentions at heart. Most do. But this is telling of our culture.
Maybe it’s America. Maybe it’s humanity at its most broken. But I shudder to think of the implications of that phrase: everything you want.
Over the years, I’ve grown cynical of Christmas. I’ve run out of good gift ideas, gotten fed up with the shopping mall feeding frenzy, and been downright been pissed-off at ungrateful people. It’s made me want to write off the whole ridiculous holiday. (Told you I was a Scrooge.)
But there's another story to tell.
Rethinking the point of Christmas
When Mary finds out she’s pregnant with the Jesus, she sings a song — a pretty interesting one:
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.
When I first read this, I swear I heard Santa Claus instantly drop dead of a heart attack. “He has sent the rich away empty…” Does that sound like everything you wanted? Not quite.
God loves the poor. He is among them. And if we are going to celebrate the birth of his Son with any sense of conscience, we must be with them, as well.
Making poverty (and Christmas) personal
A few years ago, I spent the month of December hanging out with a community of homeless men and women who lived under a bridge in downtown Nashville.
My friend Paul and I brought them candy canes, shoes, and coats. Sure, we gave them gifts. But they gave us a gift we could never repay. They opened our eyes to the spirit of Christmas.
As it turns out, it’s not about holiday specials and sugar cookies. Nor is it about getting everything you ever wanted.
Through the dirty and downtrodden and nearly-forgotten, I learned what December 25 is really about: compassion.
Christmas belongs to the poor
I caught an old rerun of Frasier the other night. It was a Christmas episode. On the show, Frasier meets a homeless man who tells him, rather pointedly, what Christmas is all about:
“The rest of the year belongs to rich people with their fancy houses and expensive foreign cars, but Christmas, Christmas belongs to guys like us.”
Frasier forgets his wallet and can’t cover the cost of his meal. The homeless man and his friends cover it. This is the great irony and paradox of Christmas, of learning to live compassionately: We don’t give to the poor; they give to us.
One Sunday afternoon in 2007, I drove a car full of Christmas presents to a small rented house in south Nashville. In that home, a family of three lived — without a phone, sometimes without heat, and seemingly without hope.
A week before, this family didn’t think they were going to be able to have Christmas at all that year. But there was another story to be told.
A church group of about thirty people banded together to buy gifts, food, toys, and more for this family.
The best Christmas gift I received that year — maybe ever — was the look on the two children’s faces as I pulled up in my Buick, the back seat and trunk full of presents from perfect strangers.
“How could this be?” they marveled. They were told Santa wasn’t coming this year. This had to be magic. And indeed it was.
After a long hiatus, I believed in Christmas again.
Christmas belongs to the poor — let’s not forget that. We should be raising our glasses to them, to the outcast and the hungry, the handicapped and oppressed.
Maybe if we’re lucky, they'll let us in on the true spirit of the season.
A radical way to do your holiday shopping
This year, my wife and I are doing something different for Christmas. No, we won’t be celebrating it on the streets (unless the opportunity presents itself). However, we will be finding a way to connect with those in need.
We’re buying gifts. But not just any kind of gifts. The kind that make a difference.
In your hustle-and-bustle holiday, I hope you find an opportunity to do something similar. If you're looking for a way to give back, check out World Vision's Gift Catalog. It's one of the best ways I know to reconnect with the true spirit of Christmas.
Because there’s just something about celebrating Christmas without the poor that feels dishonest.
May we connect with the story of a boy born in a manger and find Christmas where it belongs — in humble places, like barns and dumps and alleys. This is where we’ll find baby Jesus, if we’re willing to look.
And maybe he will lead us, like he promised, out of our own prisons.
How do you get in touch with the true spirit of Christmas?
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This post also appeared on Jeff's blog GoinsWriter.com
Jeff Goins is a writer, idea guy, and difference-maker. He loves compelling stories, worthy causes, and Pez candy. He writes at goinswriter.com to help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world.
Also writing today for the 12 blogs of Christmas, Tammy Hodge: I was a psycho woman my first married Christmas.