I question whether I should even be posting this, but it is something that has been on my mind. I welcome any thoughts that come from this, whether they align with things I have said or question there validity. Feel free to comment (I need all the Christmas shopping help I can get.....)
How should a Christian approach the cultural tradition of gift giving associated with Christmas? What things should a Christian purchase for friends and family that points to the gospel and reflects the influence of the gospel in our lives? I guess what I'm trying to say is this, as believers we are to be transformed by the grace given us through Jesus' sacrifice for us, and the truth of Scripture, and this transformation is to touch every area of our life, even our eating and drinking (Galatians 3). If this is the case, then it means that the way in which we buy and give presents should be a reflection of the gospel at work in our hearts.
So here are some truths of Scripture, that to me seem to be inherently contradicted in the tradition of gift giving.
1) In James it says that we are not to judge another by their material possessions. We are not to value one friend above another because of their financial situation. This is in direct contradiction to the common practice of giving to those we think will give to us. It is considered rude to not give presents to those who give to you, however it seems that the Scriptural teaching would be that we should give to those who CANNOT possibly give in return. And this is in line with the gospel as well, which teaches that while we were yet sinners, completely and utterly unable to repay God, He came and gave us the greatest gift possible.
2) Jesus teaches in a number of different places against the hoarding of wealth or storing up treasures on earth. In fact, he encourages the selling of our possessions in order to give the proceeds to those who are in real need. I always struggle to know WHAT to buy for people around Christmas time. I have no problem giving to others, I will frequently throughout the year give to those who are in need, but what do you buy for someone who needs nothing? Should we even be buying things for those who need nothing? I struggle to buy jewelry for someone who already has enough to wear a different set of earrings and different pair of jeans everyday for two weeks, a different shirt everyday for a month. I think through the presents that I have bought around Christmas time, and I don't know of any time that I was really giving to address a real need. So then I have to wonder, by my giving am I causing another to violate the very teachings of Scripture, and thereby, rather than imparting life as I should as one given life through the gospel, I am rather teaching them to desire material possessions as equal to or more important than God?
3) Jesus teaches that it is better to tie a millstone around our neck and be drowned than to teach a little one to sin. I think of the things that we teach our children around Christmas about the joy of giving and receiving gifts. How we teach them that we just cannot live correctly if we don't have a Christmas tree, lights, and presents. The phrases that come out of people's mouth to their children about the NEED for buying presents, the priorities that are taught in the name of tradition, and I can't help but see these things as being in contradiction to Scripture. If we were half as good at teaching our children the devastating nature of sin and our need for a savior as we are at teaching them how to find the perfect Christmas deals and the perfect Christmas presents we wouldn't have half as many children walking away from the church. If we were half as adamant about the "right" nature of baptism and the "right" modes of repentance as were were about the "right" way to celebrate Christmas, maybe our children would see that God is really of importance to us and that our walk with him is a reality.
These are not easy things to address. They are things that are so ingrained in our culture that they often don't even seem wrong on the outside. We just do things the way they've always been done and assume they are right. But what does God think of your Christmas shopping? I'm definitely not saying that you should not go out and shop this year, but I think that there should be a healthy dose of considering why you are doing it, how you go about it, and what you will be buying.
In the end, my desire is that God be glorified through every action in our life. My desire is that our hearts be right before God, that we not put things over him as more important, and that our love shines forth for all the world to see. I will be out doing Christmas shopping this year. I will lovingly give gifts to those whom I care about. I will struggle, as everyone else, with what to get for them, and probably, like everyone else, end up getting them what they already have. But my desire, above everything else, is that through my giving they may see the Gift that they have been given in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and that they might come to love him more and desire his presence in their life.