Excessive Decorations and Gifts
As the Christmas rush gets in full swing this week it seems excessive might be the buzz word this year. This past week I attended a beautiful program of ”lessons and carols” at a local college with a group of friends. After the program, we decided to drive by an area homeÂ noted for their lighting festivities.
It was a sight, with even the neighboring homes joining in with the lighting celebrations. The house appeared wrapped in lights and everything imaginable worked into the yard design. Giant snowmen and woman along with multiple Santa’s, Reindeer, Teddy Bears, Mickey Mouse, the Grinch, and much more adored the property. As we slowed down to view the sight in its full entirety, I noted that way in the back; between the giant blow-up waving snowman, penguins, and Santa was a small nativity with all the characters. As I continued to attempt to name the characters silently to myself I had to look hard for baby Jesus finally finding Him hidden behind the plethora of other characters.
Excessive festivity certainly applies in this display and the hidden nativity further seals my dismay on the way secularism is overtaking Christmas. This was further compounded as I recently saw one of the 2017 Wal-Mart Christmas commercials with the ‘Standing Ovation’ Song by The Gap Band. Excessive is the one word that immediately came to my mind. It really made me stop and wonder if the true meaning of Christmas is totally lost amid the secularism of the world.
The Pew Research Center set out to explore this in a poll a few years ago. They determined based on the collected information that 9-in-10 Americans indicate that they celebrate Christmas and three-quarters of them said they believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Interestingly, though only half see Christmas as a mostly religious holiday including the Christians and one-third of them viewed it as a cultural holiday. Of those surveyed, the group in the ages 18 ”“ 29 were less likely to place religion in their observance of Christmas. With less than half, (39%), of that age group agreeing that they would celebrate the holiday religiously.
The thing found most interestingly regarding this research is that 86% of the age groups planned to purchase Christmas gifts. Of that 91% of the “millennials” planned to purchase gifts including the high percentage that who would not be celebrating religiously. Noteworthily, 33% of all surveyed found the commercialism of Christmas high on the dislikes regarding the holiday. Expense and crowds followed this. (Pew Research Center, 2013)
With gift giving ranking high on everyone’s list no matter their belief, it is no wonder businesses don’t attempt to capitalize on it. But it all makes me ask, where is Jesus and what exactly are we celebrating? Have we allowed and simply accepted Him to be hidden among all the other ”stuff”? Does excessive apply to Christ?
I think perhaps it does as Christ is the epitome of excessive gifts as we receive freely the gift of life for our simple belief. Because of this blessing, we, in turn, should have a personal involvement in His teachings which involve striving to be more like Him in our earthly life walk. This most expressively means caring for the needs of others. As believers, we are accountable for this.
This time of year, perhaps more than others, we tend to be more giving whether excessively or not. But we should strive to give acts of mercy not just once a year but every day. It is particularly important that we understand fully our responsibility of making no excuses to neglect those with deep needs. This is not the government’s responsibility, nor does it lie on the shoulders of the general church.
When we think of excessive gifts we need to be reminded of the one in which we have received. It is expressively important that we remember that mercy is freely given and freely received. When we see others in need our selfishness should dissipate and in its place compassion fill the void. This not only means financially but with our time as well. Sometimes we need to be pricked with guilt to realize that we too often overlook need in our mostly excessively filled lives.
Rethinking Our Excessive Lives
Fred Craddock, a former Bandy Distinguished Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University once told the story of attending a conference on hunger. There were influential, knowledgeable speakers brought in from all over the world to talk about the subject. Near the end of the conference, Rev. Craddock said that a young, willowy woman got up to speak. She had long straight hair that fell down her back almost to her waist. She carried a legal pad to the podium and began reading.
At first, Rev. Craddock said, he couldn’t follow what she was saying. Eventually, it dawned on him, as it did everyone else that she was reading the same sentence over and over. But she was doing so in a different language. At the end, she spoke the sentence in English. During all the time she spoke she was saying, ”Mommy, I’m hungry. Mommy, I’m hungry.”
Rev. Craddock reported that she was the most powerful speaker of the entire conference, at least for him. On his way home with his group, along the highway, he read a billboard he had seen many times before but until now paid no attention to it. This time he did. It read, ”All You Can Eat Buffet, $4.99.” This time the Reverend said that the message seemed obscene and excessive.
Many of you, like myself, live a life of excess even if our lives aren’t extravagant by any means. Isn’t it time as we move into the season of gift buying and the New Year that we reign in our wants list and compassionately see our fellow humans. To try and live the lessons learned from Christ beginning with His humble birth and ending at the cross so that we might receive the most excessive gift of all.
”Then the king will say to those on his right, ”˜Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.” Matthew 25:34 (NLT)
As we enter the full swing of Christmas this year and beyond, it is important that we are mindful of our excess and selflessly be willing to help others with their needs. It is pertinent that we recognize that needs are certainly the basic life needs of food, shelter, and clothing but needs also extend to acceptance, caring, and compassion of circumstances that others may face.
Situations arrive, often every day, in which random acts of mercy may be given even to our own families. It is important to be fully aware of others both inside and outside of our own circles of life recognizing that all people should receive mercy just as Jesus provides us. It is necessary that believers continue to grow every day striving to be more Christ-like in their life walk. We are accountable for our actions on earth in our treatment of others.
There is a Jewish story that gives a good illustration of this. I went up to Heaven in a dream and stood at the Gates of Paradise observing the proceedings of the Heavenly Tribunal. I watched as a learned Rabbi approached and wished to enter. ”Day and night,” he said, ”I studied the Holy Torah.” The Angel suggested the Rabbi wait while they investigated whether his study was for its own sake or whether it was a matter of profession and for the sake of honors.
The next person approached, a righteous person. ”I fasted much,” he said, ”I underwent many ritual cleansings; I studied the Zohar, the mystical commentary on the Torah day and night.” Once again, the Angel said, ”Wait, until we have completed our investigation to learn whether your motives were pure.”
Then a tavern-keeper drew near. ”I kept an open door and fed without charge every poor man who came into my inn,” he said. Immediately the Heavenly Portals opened for him to enter. (Leib, 1981)
Challenge yourself to reign in any personal excessiveness in your life especially in this Christmas season where the world often gives strong influence. Find your grounding in the belief that Jesus expects us to show mercy to all people. Be motivated in helping others meet their basic needs including acceptance and love while surrounding yourself in knowing that you holdÂ already the most excessive gift ever granted to a human.
Love in Christ,
Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see, that mercy I to other show, that mercy show to me.
Credits Leib, A. R. (1981). The Jewish Way of Life and Thought. New York, NY, USA: KTAV Publishing Inc. Pew Research Center. (2013, December 18). Celebrating Christmas and the Holidays, Then and Now. Retrieved from Pew Forum: http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/18/celebrating-christmas-and-the-holidays-then-and-now/
Â What are your thoughts?
Have experienced excessive Christmases? Does Christ get lost amid your secular decorations? Do you long for the commercialism of Christmas to disappear? Share your thoughts on the importance of helping others through acceptance, caring, and compassion to meet their needs.