Friday, January 29, 2010

Only 330 Shopping Days Left till Christmas!

He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty. Proverbs 22:16

The Christmas season is so wonderful, but when it’s over, we often have a feeling of “Good riddance!” Consider the violent reaction you might have if you tuned into a radio station in mid January that was playing Christmas carols: “What is this? Christmas is over!” Or the agitation you feel with the neighbor who by now still has not taken down the Christmas yard art. Don’t you just want to go over there and take it down yourself? If you can relate, you’ll have to pardon me because I’m about to dip back into the Christmas season for an application of Proverbs 22:16. When I read this verse I thought, My timing must be off. I should have been at this point six weeks ago, now Christmas is over. Then I realized that what I’m about to share was something I learned through the Christmas season. As December 25 was nearing, it was coming more into focus. I probably couldn’t have written this with such clarity while under the influence of eggnog, with a belly full of turkey and gingerbread.

About four years ago, I started growing discontent with Christmas shopping. I’m not a Scrooge, I actually love to shop (time to confess!) and I love to be surprised on Christmas Day just as much as the next person. Even more, I love to plan a surprise for my loved ones on Christmas Day. It is a great Christmas morning joy for me to see someone tear up as they open my gift to them. (This Christmas I did it twice! I surprised both my daughter and my husband with concert tickets to their favorite artists – both were completely blown away with surprise – and the tickets didn’t even cost that much: $16 to see Owl City. George Strait was a little more expensive at $75 – still, not much to pay to make my husband cry!)

Generally speaking, we are a family who doesn’t need anything – praise God, He has supplied our needs! Nonetheless, it’s not too hard to think of something special and not too expensive that someone in my family would be thrilled to have. So, OK, I can get into shopping for them. But there are a couple of people on my list who also don’t need anything and I don’t have the foggiest notion of what might make them shed a tear on Christmas morning. So I spend an inordinate amount of time surfing gift idea Web pages, cruising the mall and flipping through catalogs to usually just end up sending them a gift card. That’s a nice gesture and I certainly love to get gift cards, so I imagine they do too. But what did I just do? I spent $50 to give someone who doesn’t need anything something more they don’t need or even particularly want. Now multiply this times the number of people like this on my list and there’s a lot of money spent on fulfilling some nonsensical gift-giving obligation. Round about Christmas Eve, I was sick to my stomach with this nonsense and still had one more gift to buy – my best friend – another one of those people who doesn’t need anything. After hours of pouring through stupid gift recommendations online, I decided to get her something that would benefit her favorite cause – pet rescue.

Earlier in the season, I got an email from my mother saying she had given a gift to Heifer International on behalf of our family. I greatly appreciated that – actually, it was probably my favorite Christmas gift this year. I know I’m not introducing you to any new concept to give money to a charitable cause in lieu of giving a mug full of candy or fuzzy socks. You may get several of these charity “gift catalogs” in the mail each year. I threw all of mine away in the garbage can at the post office (another confession!). I love the idea, but I had my mind set already on giving stuff and things.

Reflecting on this past Christmas, I see that if I want to give wisely, that is, according to the principles in the Word of God, I have to put myself in that frame of mind well before the Christmas season begins. Now, in fact, is an excellent time to start – even more so because I have children (two plus my husband) who look to Christmas to make all their dreams come true. This is, of course, the true meaning of Christmas – all of our dreams come true in the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and the promise of eternal life. And yet you know as well as I do that salvation is hard to fit under a tree. If I want to honor God more in my gift-giving on Christmas, I need to begin now to prepare my children to be happy on Christmas morning with less under the tree.

About four years ago, my husband and I decided to put a limit on Christmas spending – each person gets $100 to buy gifts. We have never once stuck to it, but we’ve come much closer than we ever would have without the limit. When we pool that money, that’s $400 our family of four spends on Christmas gifts. That doesn’t include what we spend to make treats and wrap them for our neighbors or in donations through Toys for Tots and other Christmas initiatives we always participate in (I’m good with that spending; it’s the kind I want to do more of). Do you have any notion what $400 can do in other places in the world? Well, a family of four could live off of it for more than a month in these countries: Burkina Faso (where is that?), Benin (I think that’s in Africa), Eritrea (never heard of it!), Chad, Central African Republic (now I know that’s in Africa), Mozambique (sounds like a cool place to live), Tajikistan, Kenya, Mali (not Malawi), Nigeria (not Niger), Zambia, Niger (not Nigeria), Rep. of Yemen, Madagascar (apparently the movie hasn’t done much for them), Rep. of Congo, Ethiopia (still starving after all these years), Guinea-Bissau, the Democratic Rep. of Congo (another Congo?), Burundi (again, sounds African), Tanzania, Malawi (not Mali) and Sierra Leone. That’s a lot of countries and a lot of people too – approximately 580 million! That’s like everybody in the United States – almost twice!

Oh, but I don’t know any of those people, so how can I send them a Christmas gift? And what difference would my gift make anyway?
Let me be frank: if you don’t know anyone in Africa by name, you just haven’t tried very hard. I know a young man named David who lives in Nigeria. He can go to school each month because we send $25 to World Vision. I know evangelists in South Africa who just concluded an campaign in Liberia that saw 2,200 people accept the gift of salvation. And I haven’t even really tried that hard to come to know these people and their efforts. Mostly, I’ve just paid attention to the mail I opened (unlike the treatment I gave those gift catalogs).

Now let’s do some simple math to figure what difference our gift could make anyway. My family spends less on Christmas than the average American family. Last year 307 million Americans (I thought there were more of us, but this is what U.S. Census Bureau, International Database, and The World Factbook, 2009 reports) planned to spend $743 per person on Christmas, according to Gallop. That’s just over $228 billion. Impressive! What if each person made just a modest effort to redirect some of their inane giving – let’s say $50 a person? Multiply by U.S. population and that’s $15,350,000,000! Do you mean to say that if everyone redirected the funds for one decent gift, next Christmas Americans could give the gift of clean drinking water to the entire developing world ($10 billion) and have enough left over to inoculate all the children in India against childhood disease ($40 million)??? Wait – we still have money leftover –$4.5 billion. Hmm. How about we prolong life for a year for more than 4 million mothers with AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa? That would put a smile on a child’s face on Christmas morning, wouldn’t it?

To all my friends and family: You can take the $50 you were going to spend on me and purchase immunizations for 12 Indian children next year. I can promise you that opening a box with a note inside that says, “12 kids in India were immunized in your honor” will bring a tear to my eye – and joy to my heart.

Contemplate this: At Christmas and throughout the year, am I giving gifts to the rich like the fool in Proverbs 22:16?

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