Here we are again in the final days of the “Christmas buying season”, when people run around frantically to buy presents for friends, family, and coworkers. But why do we give a lot of stuff to people who often don’t want or need what we buy for them, as evidenced by the long “return” lines in stores on Dec. 26?
One answer is that this all began with the story of Jesus’ birth appearing in the gospel of Matthew. In the second chapter, magi (“wise men”) present the Christ child with gifts. Somehow, over the years, the idea of honoring Jesus with gifts morphed into the custom of people buying expensive stuff for each other.
Today it might seem impossible to give gifts to Jesus, as he has not walked this earth physically for nearly 2,000 years. The 25th chapter of Matthew tells us exactly how we all can give gifts to Jesus today. In this story, there is a judgment in which people are separated into “sheep,” who are rewarded, and “goats,” who are punished. They were judged based on whether they helped Jesus when he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, needing clothing, sick or a prisoner. When some said they had never seen Jesus in need, Jesus told them that helping the needy (“the least of these”) was equivalent to helping him.
So how do we honor Jesus today with gifts? Find a charitable, nonprofit organization that helps others. Learn about the organization, possibly by volunteering there, asking questions, reading the newspaper. Then, support the organization with gifts for the needy in the local community or elsewhere. We can still share gift with our acquaintances, but let’s concentrate on “keeping Christ in Christmas” by following Jesus’ instructions.