Christmas spending is down substantially this holiday season. So, too, is Christmas giving.
The International Council of Shopping Centers has declared it an "awful beginning to the holiday season." November revenues have fallen 7.7% from last year—Walmart being the notable exception. Retailers are panicking as people seem to be giving less this year. This comes as no surprise. Unemployment is up. Disposable income is down. Money is tight. And, unlike the fat cats on Wall Street and in the Motor City, most of us simply aren't too big to fail.
But instead of focusing on the negatives of this holiday season, perhaps we can use this time as an opportunity to recapture the true spirit of giving.
For years, Christmas giving in our culture has been driven by an almost chaotic consumerism. The most recent evidence of this is the Black Friday stampede that resulted in the trampling death of a Walmart employee on Long Island. Driven by Madison Avenue ad campaigns, frenzied consumers have flocked to purchase the latest retail fads. Each new Christmas has been viewed as successful only if it is bigger and better than the previous year.
But with the implosion of our economy, all that has changed. People are more circumspect with their purchases. While this change might leave retailers depressed, it provides the rest of us with an opportunity to reflect on the real meaning of giving during this Christmas season.
The practice of gift giving at Christmas arose by virtue of God's gift of his Son to a sinful and fallen world. Wise men from the East, realizing that the baby born of humble circumstance was God incarnate, brought gifts to him as an act of worship. (Matt. 2:1-11) Christians emulated their actions by giving gifts to one another as they celebrated their Savior's birth. Somewhere along the line, clever retailers recognized the boon that would accrue to them if they could motivate everyone to get in on the act.
But God's gift of his Son was far more precious than any gift we can purchase at the mall. It was a sacrificial gift borne of his love for the creatures he made in his image. He did it to redeem humankind which had fallen into sin and become separated from him. On this the Scriptures are unequivocal, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16 KJV) God's love is so great that he sent his only Son to die on the cross to save us wretched sinners: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17 KJV)
It is in gratitude for this great Gift that we ought to give to one another this Christmas. We ought not to give merely in response to cultural pressure or out of fear of the disappointed response of a loved one who doesn't receive a gift. We ought to give out of a spirit of thankfulness for what God has done for us. We ought to give out of a spirit of love for our friends, our family, our neighbors, and the poor as God showed his love to us through his great Gift. Through this imitation of his love, we draw nearer to him.
Remembering this great Gift and giving out of love will enable us all to have a truly Merry Christmas.