What many people think of when they think of Christmas preparations are the lists of presents they have to buy, the decorations they have to put up, the cookies they have to bake, and the cleaning they have to do. Although those things have become cultural staples for the holiday, they can sometimes conceal the real reason for the season. The Advent season is more about a preparation of the heart than a preparation of the hearth. In some ways, our society seems to be getting things backwards. This is a time of preparation for Christ's coming, but sometimes it seems like instead we are getting wrapped up in all the wrapping paper and consumed by the consumerism.
Why do we even give each other Christmas gifts in the first place? The custom of giving Christmas presents to one another comes from the example of the wise men, who traveled a long and arduous journey in order to present Christ with gifts to honor and adore him. Gift-giving is a symbol of love. During Christmas, it should remind us of the gift of Christ that we were given 2000 years ago and are continually given each and every day. These gifts symbolize our need to give the gift of Christ to others, as well as our need to receive him from others. However, the problem with giving gifts on Christmas is that the focus becomes on the gift itself, rather than on the gift we are celebrating–Jesus Christ. We get excited for Christmas, more often because of the excitement from opening gifts than from the joy that comes from celebrating the gift of our Savior.
The gift-giving custom has gotten way out of hand. Each year, the U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars on Christmas gifts, and I, too, am certainly a contributor to that number. We feel this need to participate in the practice because it is expected of us. Plus, it is difficult to deny the excitement of wanting to see others' desires fulfilled, while also satisfying your own. In the end, though, it is only surface-level. The happiness does not last. The presents are opened, and soon enough, the excitement and fulfillment fade, and next year, we only have new things we want in order to feel "fulfilled." The only thing that can truly fulfill us is Jesus Christ himself!
So what if instead of focusing on the presents we all focused on what will last, on something that will bring us all a deeper fulfillment? What if we all gave a gift to Jesus, instead, out of a grateful heart for the gift of himself that he has given us? What if we all committed to sacrifice a little bit more to give some time to others by volunteering more, perhaps at a soup kitchen or visiting the elderly? What if, instead of spending all that money on gifts for ourselves, we asked people to donate to a good cause to help someone who is in need? If we all decided to do this, just imagine how beautiful the world could be, filled with love that points toward everlasting joy! For Jesus says, "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me"(Matthew 25:40). In giving ourselves to others, we are letting Christ reach out to those around us and are celebrating his coming, not only 2000 years ago but also today, in our own lives and within our own hearts.
So next time someone starts to ask you about your Christmas preparations, think about your heart. Is your heart prepared? Is there room in your heart to give to others, not materially, but spiritually, in a way that will lead them to greater fulfillment? Step aside from the presents, and take the time to draw near to adore the true gift of Christmas in beautiful thanksgiving.
May your heart be filled with the joy that can only come from him this holiday season, and may your heart be prepared so as to be able to let him give himself to others through you.