Gifts Like White Elephants

We think of Christmas as a time to give gifts, and the marketplace rejoices. I admit I have been too hard on them in recent years; they are just responding to us, same as they always have, same as they always will. Instead, let us turn our gaze inward, fellow gift-givers. Have you ever noticed how much we give and how little we sacrifice? We don’t just give gifts, we trade them. And we feel terrible if we get something and don’t reciprocate—even worse if we give something and get nothing in return. Granted, we will gladly give to someone who has legitimate need without expecting something in return. Children are another exception. But for the rest of us the people we give to are able to give right back.

Where does this leave us? We could so much more easily buy what we want for ourselves and save the wrapping paper and returns. But we do it this way so we can practice giving and receiving. Is this artificial? I’m not sure. It’s good training for the children, I suppose. It allows us to be thoughtful, an advantage for sure. But do we lose any of it when people make wish lists? How happy are you when you get other gifts instead of the ones on your list? I suppose it depends on how well the giver knows you, and perhaps on how well you love the giver. And don’t get me started on returns!

I’m starting to think our tradition has collected some baggage over the years.

I’m not saying gift-giving is a bad tradition, but just stop and recognize for a moment just how different this is from what happened in Bethlehem. God gave us a gift that we could not reciprocate. God lavishly spent on us, gave us the most costly thing He had. God set no Christmas budget. Nor did He wrap His gift in fancy paper. We dress up our gifts for excitement, but He dressed His gift down! He had to. He did not go to a store, but gave in a sense from His own belongings. Some of us were waiting for His gift, others still don’t want it. But all of us need it. There is no return or exchange because there’s nothing of remotely comparable value; some of us may wish we’d gotten peace on earth right then instead of a baby, but in the end, trust me: we needed the baby.

Now I’m not sure where it started, but I’d like to focus on a particular Christmas tradition that has been extremely popular of late: white elephant gift exchange. I have so much fun at white elephant parties, but how much farther can you get from modeling the first Christmas? It’s about as totally opposite of what God did as you can imagine! Are we mocking God as we give gifts that cost us nothing to no one in particular with no value associated with them? Gifts we can’t wait to stick to other people next year, or just throw away when we get home? Are we mocking Him as we make fun of each other’s trashy gifts and fight over the good ones? I can’t say, but if nothing else I will say we have engaged in this uncritically.

With this in mind, I’m sure to be a drag at your next white elephant gift exchange; please plan accordingly.

Again, I’m not against gifts, either giving or receiving. But I’m so much more FOR meaning and purpose. Let’s think about what we’re doing this Christmas and make sure we worship God in our traditions like we do in our carols.

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