Don't Be a Wise Guy!

When Jesus was born, the three wise men came to the stable bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Well, except we don’t know there were three wise men; there could have been a dozen Magi who all went in together to buy a gold-frankincense-and-myrrh gift pack at Sam’s. And we absolutely know that the Magi never made it to the stable; by the time the Magi arrived, Jesus and his family were already in a house (Luke 2:20). So you should dismiss any nativity scene that depicts the Magi (or Santa for that matter) kneeling before the manger. But the Magi did come bearing gifts to the baby Jesus, and that is the only part of the Christmas story that we seem to care about. So the sounds that sum up the Christmas season is not jingle bells or silver bells or the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum of the little drummer boy—it’s the cha-ching of the cash register.

According to National Retail Federation predictions, retail sales during the 2012 holiday shopping season sales will total $586 billion. And that figure would have been a lot higher had not Hurricane Sandy had the bad manners to show up much later and in more high-dollar real estate than better mannered hurricanes, dropping the holiday shopping season receipts by about 1.1% (according to consultant firm Strategic Resource Group). The average American will spend according to projections about $854 for Christmas gifts this season, up a whopping 32% from last year. Is that because the economy is 32% more solid or that people have socked about 32% more in savings? No, it’s likely because many of us are 32% stupider than we were one year ago!

This time of year we talk about “the True Meaning of Christmas.” OK, I know that Christmas isn’t mentioned in the Bible; Jesus nowhere tells us to observe His birthday. But the fact that Jesus was born into this world to live among us as one of us is indeed at the very center of the gospel. It was “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:4). We must believe that Jesus was born as a real flesh and blood baby in order to accept that He gave His body and shed His blood on the cross (1 John 1:1-2). Jesus became flesh and blood like us in order to redeem us (Heb 2:14). Jesus was Immanuel, “God with us.” (Matt 1:23). Because we connect this time of the year to the story of the birth of Jesus, there really is a “True Meaning of Christmas.”

And I suggest to you that “The True Meaning of Christ” is not spending money that we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to give to people who already have everything! But we act like we think that is precisely the reason for the season. People go into debt to buy gifts that are already old and unappreciated by the time the credit card bill comes due in January. We know that, and yet every year we buy more and more stuff that few of us need because of this tradition of the wise men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to honor the baby Jesus. Well, don’t be a wise guy! Reign in the spending. Focus on giving to people not only who don’t give you a gift, but can’t give you a gift (Luke 14:13-14). Find a good Christian charity (like and make a donation to them in the name of the person on your Christmas list. Rather than giving people gifts, invite them over for a dinner and fellowship… along with some people that, well, just need a dinner!

It does us little good to complain about the over-commercialization of the holiday season if we are right there in the middle of the mob elbowing others away from our Christmas deals. We don’t have to buy into the need to buy into the holidays. We don’t have to be a wise guy!