The Christian liturgical year ended appropriately with Matthew 25. In this passage known as the “Judgment of the Nations” Jesus declares the criteria for separating the sheep from the goats. Curiously (or not), they have nothing to do with whom one marries, the music one listens to, the company one keeps, or the dogma one subscribes to. Instead, they have everything to do with how we (collectively) treat the homeless, the hungry, the imprisoned, the sick, the thirsty, and the stranger.
For Christians these words are timely as the Advent and Christmas seasons begin November 27. These are challenging times for the Christian community. I would submit that the words of Matthew 25 gain relevance when the church (collectively) moves to distinguish itself from the consumer orgy that commences the day after Thanksgiving, culturally known as “Black Friday.” This doesn’t mean gift giving must cease.
There is great joy in the act of selecting, giving, and receiving of gifts. Even so, it impossible to deny that the hijacking of Christmas by the consumer mentality has cheapened the gift in the manger. We have purchased unwanted gifts, re-gifted, swapped gifts cards, and, in many cases, increased our debt in the name of what? It certainly isn’t in the name of the Gospel, Christmas, or Christianity. We are called to be something different.
Thankfully, hope has emerged in recent history through alternative gift giving. Fair trade gifts can be purchased through organizations like Ten Thousand Villages or local, fair trade, gift shops like From the Ends of the Earth in Dallas, Texas. I have found the folks at Advent Conspiracy to be particularly inspirational. Committed to building clean water wells, Advent Conspiracy has challenged Christians to view Advent and Christmas as a time to embrace their call to be justice oriented people (their video posted below).
The “holiday season” as it is celebrated in our culture through gift buying, parties and beautiful decor throughout cities everywhere is a wonderful time to celebrate the relationships in our lives. And there’s nothing that says a Christian shouldn’t participate. Yes, engage in the joy of gift exchange. Just don’t buy so many! The Advent/Christmas cycle reminds us that the gift in the manager calls us to a different kind of life. A life that is simpler. A life that celebrates generosity over consumption. A life that engages in acts of justice, love, and compassion.
So, find a local church offering an “Alternative Gift Market.” Host a “Wine to Water” party and help fund a clean water well. Buy a beehive from Heifer International to increase the pollination of the crops in an impoverished village.
Whatever you choose make it a Christmas that embraces the call of the Christ-child to engage this world justly, compassionately and mercifully.
Have a joyful and meaningful season!