[Since this video is making the rounds again, I’m re-doing a post from last December 7.]
No one disputes the need for remembering the poor and the obligation we have to be generous with our wealth. And certainly, no one can object to the charge that Americans (and American Christians) have fallen prey to the idol of materialism. But this video (and those arguments which follow these lines) seems to be trying to provoke guilt not over materialism and greed, but over the mere fact that we have abundance and are able to purchase “unnecessary” gifts for our friends and families at Christmas.
Instead of giving that “unnecessary” toy, we’re told, you could give to a project which provides clean water for people in need. Right. But what if I can do both? Is it wrong to give gifts that the recipients don’t need? [Is there even such a thing as a necessary toy?] Why does God give us hundreds of thousands of “unnecessary” things all the time? We don’t have just one kind of tree or fish or bird or cat or dog or flower or weather or cloud — rather, we have thousands of “unnecessary” varieties. And we have them apparently because God loves to give us lots of things — not because they are necessary, but because they bring delight and joy. Gift giving is an imitation of this lavish and super-abundant love of God who gives us exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think — and not merely those things we need.
I was reminded of a post by Peter Leithart on this same issue a couple of years ago. Peter notes that Christmas (like all our feasts) means enjoying an abundance of good things and then asks, “What are we to make of this as Christians?”
There are some – let us call them liberals – who want us to feel guilty for the excess of our celebration. How can we be eating all this chocolate and making this great expenditure when people are hungry and lonely and vulnerable. And there are others – let us call them conservatives – who say that the hungry and lonely and vulnerable are not our responsibility, so we should celebrate with a clear conscience. Besides, if someone is hungry, so goes the thinking, it’s probably their own fault anyway.
Scripture does not allow us to be either liberals or conservatives when it comes to Christmas, or when it comes to anything else for that matter. Against the liberals, we have the Scriptural pattern of abundant and rich and frequent feasting. At their feasts, Israel cut loose and enjoyed food and drink, and enjoyed it abundantly. . . . But we are not conservatives either. The fact that we are to feast and rejoice with a clean conscience does NOT mean that we feast without any thought for those who have nothing to feast on. Israel is commanded over and over not to forget the Levite, the orphan, and the widow. . . . Remembering the Levite, the orphan, the widow and the stranger was not a way of smuggling liberalism and guilt-manipulation into the back door. Israel was not supposed to refrain from feasting because there were orphans and widows around. Rather, they were commanded bring the orphan and the widow into their feasting, so that the needy could share the abundance of their joy and of their goods. We in the new covenant have an even more profound reason for doing so: God has shared the abundance of His life with us in Jesus, and so ought we to share with one another.
So, feast this Christmas in good conscience. Lay your hands on whatever your soul desires, and eat it in rejoicing and thanks. But look for opportunities to share your abundance with the orphan, the widow, the aged and the poor. God has filled you when you were empty, and helped you when you were helpless. Go and do likewise.
and I says Amen to that.