Wasn't Ryan's talk on Sunday terrific?
To see his introductory video, check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDb4EiYu3dY.
Dealing with nuance is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do, especially if these human beings are followers of Jesus. Ryan pointed this out so well. We all know that Christmas gift-giving has been corrupted by the materialism and greed in our culture. But gift giving serves and has served a very important function in our lives. Why is it so rare for us to hear pro-gift-giving sermons around Christmastime? It's an interesting question, really.
It's interesting because for much of the year pastors and elders in churches spend a great deal of time and energy trying to loosen our hold on our stuff. This isn't a critique (it could be, but I don't intend it that way). We need good teaching on generosity, tithing, and money. We need to be pushed out of our self-centered orientation, the orientation that says "My money is mine and I can spend it however I damn well please." And the people who are teaching and pushing me to loosen my grip on my stuff do so with tremendous compassion and character.
But when Christmas comes around - when our greedy culture says "Giving is in" - we often say "Giving is now out." We're supposed to remember Jesus, worshipping and adoring him, not give gifts. Now, some gift-giving is still encouraged - give to the church, to the poor, to InterVarsity (which is almost but not quite the church and the poor) - but PlayStation 3's for your kids and jewelry for your wife...no way. The spirit of Christmas looks like an ally to the gospel call of charity, but the Christmas spirit is not spiritual enough for us.
We often feel guilty giving and receiving gifts. An example of this in action is the dread I feel when asked what I want for Christmas. Maybe I should say "Just worship Jesus," but I want to ask for new jeans. And I feel so unspiritual about that desire, so irreverent, that I end up saying "Nothing." How spiritual is lying?
I think our hesitancy to work with gift-giving - to give gifts wisely, appropriately and well - is indicative of deeper things going wrong in our thinking and theology. Ryan touched on this in his talk, if you remember. Some possible errors in our thinking that can lead to great hesitancy in gift-giving are as follows: our general interaction with and participation in the physical/material world; our attitude toward giving and receiving grace; the humanity and divinity of Jesus (ie. the theandric union); the complexity of our participation in culture; and the interplay of law, freedom and relationship with God.
Gift-giving and Christmastime provide us with opportunities to think about and work with these deeper things, to deal with nuance. Let's do that.