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Kindness Korner

Christmas Without Guilt


It is the fashion about this time each year to begin Christmas shopping.  We may  load our pockets with cash and our hearts with guilt.  Some folks have been brought up on warnings and admonitions every time there is a time of fun. Some Christians don’t know how to have fun, unless it is sprinkled and spiced with guilt.  It is as if they must be more serious, thrifty, concerned about others.  As the Christmas season opens, writers and speakers in the Christian community say in one way or another, like our parents did when we went out for an evening of fun, “Now be careful!”  So now it is  “Have a Merry Christmas, but not too merry, not too joyous, not too much fun.”  The message from within, or from others, is one of restraining joy, inhibiting happiness and curtailing free-spiritedness.  As a result we may never be sure whether fun is okay, legitimate or appropriate.

So again we will hear about over-commercializing Christmas, putting Christ back into Christmas, the paganism of the Christmas tree, tinsel as the symbol of superficiality, cash registers as the symbol of what Christmas has become.  Necessary correctives perhaps, but we need more of the opposite. We need encouragement to have fun, let our joy bloom, even be foolishly full of fun, be extravagant.  Such messages get back to what the heart of Christmas is, namely, joy to the world.

I will never forget an incident from our first year of marriage.  Linda and I were living in Ann Arbor and our lives became intertwined with a family of desperately poor people.  A mother and four children, all of school age.  They lived in abject poverty.  Broken windows in the winter, very little money, a sickly mother, and a house that was hardly livable.  When Christmas came the children had through odd jobs accumulated a little money.  By phone they invited us to come over on Christmas Day to see the gift they had bought for their mother.  They were very excited about it.

  So we went to their house, carrying in our minds some vague expectations of what kind of a gift they had bought for her.  Perhaps a warm coat, a new purse, or maybe an electric frying pan, or a toaster.  Instead we were knocked over with surprise and chagrin.  They had us close our eyes as they went into the next room to get the gift.  Then they brought from behind the curtain the gift.  It was a huge stuffed donkey about five feet tall which must have cost $25 or $35 at that time (1962).  They were thrilled.  We were stunned.  We had all we could do to generate a little excitement with this “stupid” gift.  Of all the things she needed, that was the least.

Still, as we thought about it, there may have been something symbolically right in that kind of giving.  Here they were in their poverty.  Hardly anything they could have bought of a practical nature would have changed their status significantly.  So why not blow it on something totally useless just for the fun and excitement of buying and giving it?

A little of that that has to go into the Christmas season, instead of all the hand-wringing and furrowed brows over whether or not the fun we’re having is appropriate when there are people dying on the other side of town,. whether the money we are spending could better be sent to a place where people are starving or deprived in some other way.  Indeed Christians must be thoughtful and give to those kind of concerns.  But there is something bottomless about that pit.  There is a time for unrestrained Christmas foolishness, impractical fun, the stopping of all the shaking fingers and historical surveys about the paganism of the Christmas tree.  Forget it.  Enjoy it, and have fun.  Christ lives!

The incarnation of Jesus speaks to that human condition of weak, foolish, inconsistent, materialistic people and He comes into our condition and says “Celebrate!”  The Lord God loves our world and is caring for it.  We can relax and enjoy Christmas freely and fully, uncluttered by guilt.

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