Each year around the Christmas season, there’s a justified reservation among the followers of Christ against the excessive commercialism and ever-increasing demand to do more, buy more, give more … and eat more (maybe we aren’t so reserved about that last one). It’s all about the stuff!
The temptation toward materialism looms large all the time — this life is all there is so I better accrue as many possessions and indulge as many pleasures as I can while I can — but it seems especially present during this season.
Nevertheless, the call of Christ remains: “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, CSB).
As we retell the narrative of Jesus’ birth, as we rehearse for Christmas musical performances, and as we set up or admire nativity scenes, we see the lowliness and simplicity of the Messiah’s incarnation.
The Christ-child came into the poorest, most destitute situation. How can it be all about the stuff when we worship a savior like this?
It was a demonstration of God’s generous love and subversive wisdom. Truly, what appeared so “meek and mild” was no less than the eternally begotten Son taking on a human nature to fulfill all of his Father’s plans for creation.
To those with the eyes of faith, that baby in the feeding trough now sits on a throne in glory. What started in lowliness has culminated in the Lord Jesus Christ “crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death” for the salvation of sinners like us (Hebrews 2:9), and the resurrected Christ promises that his people will join him in that eternal glory (John 17:24).
If that’s true —and I believe it is —then that message re-contextualizes everything about us. We are not simply Christmastime consumers to be manipulated by clever marketing, nor are we blind actors of an overcrowded schedule of events every December. Instead, we are the loyal subjects of the King of glory (Psalm 24:8), we are the joyful beneficiaries of the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), and we are the humble recipients of the Savior of sinners (Matthew 1:21).
Our Christmas gatherings aren’t the cult practices of a vague religiosity; they’re remembrances of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God (Luke 17:21), and they’re communal festivals of anticipation of his return to consummate the ages, when all of his elect are gathered in (Matthew 24:31).
In denying ourselves for Christ’s sake, we receive more than we ever would by trying to acquire the latest gadgets. Because we are the recipients of God’s generous gift of salvation through Christ, we are free to imitate the God we love by generously giving good gifts and gladly receiving the gifts of others. Giving and receiving are not necessarily a capitulation to the materialistic spirit of the age.
In the light of Christ and done in faith, giving and receiving gifts are loaded with theological freight and might just be the most subversively Christian thing you can do.
Garrett Walden is a pastor at Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, and he's a 6th grade teacher at Auburn Classical Academy. He's an Auburn University alum living in Opelika with his wife and three kids.