There are a lot of things I love about Christmas, like the smell of freshly cut pine and the sound of carols sung by preschoolers. I love the sound my dog’s paws make as they crunch the icy remains of fallen leaves when we walk our neighborhood streets, admiring white lights twinkling on tree branches covered with freshly fallen snow.
And I confess that I even love shopping, finding just the right gift that I know will make someone smile and then wrapping it all up with a pretty bow.
But my joy is being sucked dry year by year as the holiday becomes nothing more than an obligatory season of spending. In fact, many shoppers start their gift buying in July, hoping to get their shopping finished early, as if buying presents is some sort of chore you check off a list, like going to the dentist or shaving your legs.
The National Retail Federation estimates that American shoppers will spend about $800 on gifts this holiday, plus another $100 on themselves. That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider that the average household already carries more than $9,000 in credit card debt.
Have we gone mad? Most of us can barely make ends meet during the year and then at Christmas we have convinced ourselves that we need to go into more debt in order to either be happy or make others happy. We’ve sold souls for shiny wrapping paper.
I sat at a café the other day writing letters to three children that I sponsor through Compassion International, a child sponsorship organization that reaches children in poverty stricken nations with food, health care, and the grace of Jesus. Over the past nine years I’ve had the most amazing experience learning about life in India, and more recently Brazil and Uganda, and gotten an entirely fresh outlook on my own life in America.
For example, the parents of my little boy in India recently suffered a bout of small pox. I thought we had eradicated that from the face of the earth, which just goes to show how insulated my American life is. And how about my boy in Uganda, whose mother died (likely from AIDS) and whose father left to fight in Sudan and was never heard from again? That’s everyday life for a five year-old boy in Africa.
That kind of puts thing into perspective, doesn’t it? While we spend our time and energy fighting the crowds for the latest gizmos and splurging on $6 cups of coffee there are people all over the world who find great joy in a simple meal or hug from a loved one, people who live in poverty and yet are rich because of their relationship with Christ.
This Christmas, I want you to remember that there isn’t a single gift you can give or receive that is more valuable than the grace of God. You can’t buy it, wrap it or return it. You don’t have to wait in line to get it and it’s always the right size. And no matter where you live on this planet it’s really the only gift that we all need.
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