Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Materialistic Christmas

I have a confession to make: this Christmas season, I have been that heinous materialist everyone rails against. It crept in so subtly for me, cloaked as caring, that I didn't notice it until I'd had several meltdowns over gifts. I'm not good at giving gifts. It's not that I'm awful at it; I like to think the presents I give usually fall somewhere within the realm of what is desired by the recipient. But I know people who seem to have a natural, beautiful, warm-hearted grace in the way they choose things out and give them to others, free from self-centered anxiety, beaming with joy. Unfortunately, I am not that way. I overthink every selection to death, cry over the fact that our already strained budget can't afford more than what feels like shabby knickknacks, and think through all the potential ways the person in question will hate me once they receive my utter failure of a present. I wish I was exaggerating, but I'm not. One night a couple weeks ago I was lying in bed staring into the darkness, fighting back tears, and Jordan asked what was wrong. I gave an answer to the effect of "everything I've bought for people is crap and meaningless and won't impact or affect them at all, and in a year they won't even remember it and no one will know that I love them." Of course it was absurd, and he gently told me so. But it was a while after that conversation that I had the realization with which I opened this post: I am a materialist.
I had fallen into the classic trap of making Christmas about "stuff." In a much more subtle way than many others, perhaps, but in a way equally deadly. I was acting as though my merit as a human being, my place in my family's lives, the acceptability of my efforts at caring, all hinged on what I had bought. I was wrapping up my perception of worthiness in fragile colored paper and ribbon. For those of us who follow the church calendar, today is the third Sunday of Advent, the time of anticipation leading up to celebrating the arrival of our incarnate Christ. A friend challenged me at the beginning to be intentional about how I engage this season, to find something specific to do every day to observe it. One of the things that has resulted is a thought that's been eating away at my uptight materialistic mind games.
I grew up in church hearing this concept that we give gifts at Christmas to remember the fact that Jesus was given to us as the greatest gift. As simplistic as it sounds, I think there's truth in the statement-- although perhaps it's been left alone too soon. I feel like Christ-followers often take it at face value, thinking of the act alone: OK, we are supposed to give things. And then we dismiss it and move on. This year I have begun to feel the weighty importance of not just leaving it at the act of giving itself, but rather to look at what kind of gift it was. The Jewish hope for the arrival of their Messiah was that He would bring material prosperity and circumstantial political power. They wanted Him to bring tangible, visible gifts-- that was how they thought He had to love them. But His love was stranger, wilder, harder than that. He didn't show up bringing an army or economic revolution. He brought Himself. In a dark world teeming with unrest and racial hatred and political instability and a lack of medical technology, He presented Himself as the most vulnerable, unimpressive package imaginable: an infant, confined by cloth, helpless in a feeding trough. Not everyone would understand what He was doing, and He knew it (though at moments later in His life we get glimpses of His deep yearning for it to be otherwise). But He came anyway, with nothing but Himself. That kind of love might not have made the surface level, circumstantial shifts that an oppressed people group hoped for. But it seared the surface of the whole of human history with the peculiar radiance of hope. It marked every dark corner of earthly experience with the achingly brilliant words God is with us. The life offered in complete empty-handed vulnerability became the life that would (from a spiritual and arguably historical perspective as well) have the single most impact of any life in human history. And of course, this is the kind of gift I believe He still gives. My encounters with Him lead me to believe that although we may beg Him for circumstantial reprieves and material successes and even intellectual surety, He doesn't come to us like that. He just comes as Himself. And the promise He gives me, the only one that has ever satisfied me, was never about making these days on the earth's broken skin smoother and softer and shinier. The promise is still God is with you. The promise is still you are not alone. If I am to emulate the Christ this Christmas, to echo this Jewish rabbi who rocked history with His counter-cultural vulnerability, then when I go see my family or engage with my friends I don't need to bring presents. I will, but they're more side effects of an event rather than the event itself (just as there may be moments of circumstantial comfort as a result of Christ's coming into our lives, but that is certainly not the point or even the norm). I just need to bring myself. Vulnerable, messed up, a little too loud about coffee and rock and roll, a little too quiet about everything else, self-absorbed, incomplete, but completely dead-on in love with every single person I see. And I won't do it perfectly and not everyone will get it and maybe one or two people will be disappointed in my lame gift giving skills. But I'm more OK with that when I know it was never about that anyway. It's the cheesy truth of "presence vs. presents," the fact that I could never manufacture anyway what it looks like when souls rub shoulders-- though it rub them raw. Somehow, someway, we are enough-- as we are, no strings attached. Love and deep peace to you all.

1 comment:

Eclectic Elegance said...

Mmmmmmmmmmm. <3 This warmed me up like spiced chai in the frost. :3 Thank you.