Beating the Bah Humbug in Me

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Mr. GrinchYesterday, I caught a snippet Dennis Prager’s radio show where he challenged those who believe that crass commercialization has ruined Christmas. With playful sarcasm, he reasoned, “During one period of time each year, the great majority of Americans feel obligated to buy presents for their friends and relatives. Imagine that! What an awful thing!”

He had me there.

He goes on. “Spending one’s money on presents for people is one of the nicest traditions in society and ought to be cultivated, not discouraged.”

Now, I have to admit. I have grumbled incessantly about buying gifts. “I’m not a big shopper,” I reason. “People have too much ‘stuff’” anyway!” But I think I’ve missed the point. It’s not about what people need, and it’s not about me.

I don’t know all that there is to know about love, but I do know this. Love is extravagant. That’s why diamond rings were invented. Their very extravagance says, “I treasure you.” When Barry and I got engaged, we were serving as missionaries in an urban mission in Amsterdam. We were poor as dirt, but we went window-shopping for rings. I fell in love with a very simple, dainty ring with a very small diamond. We ventured inside where the sales associate told us that the diamond in this particular ring was a lower quality “brown” diamond versus the flawless and superior “blue-white” diamond. (Amsterdam is THE place to learn about diamonds.) I didn’t mind. Heck, I was thinking I’d be lucky to get cubic zirconium. I thought it was a beautiful little ring and it suited me just fine, but I wasn’t sure Barry had funds even for this.

A few weeks later, we went out to dinner, and he surprised me with that very ring. But when I looked at it closely, I realized that the brilliance of the diamond was different. It was the blue-white diamond. He had asked the jeweler to switch out the brown diamond for the blue one. In his mind, the lower quality just wouldn’t do for the girl who would become his wife. Relatively speaking, for us this was beyond extravagant. It was lavish, but I’ll never forget the loving intent behind the gesture.

Such expressions of love are far more about giver’s love than the receiver’s need or merit. (Think of Joseph and his amazing multi-colored coat, a gift that was ALL about the father’s love versus Joseph’s merit.) We don’t earn a right to be loved, and, if we’re honest, we often don’t deserve it. But when you love someone, say, your children, for instance—you love them even when they are rotten. Like from the age of around 13 to 20. And you give them things they don’t deserve, like 2nd and 3rd chances, or forgiveness, or your time and energy when you are tired. We give our children precious pieces of our heart every day because we love them, even if they don’t always love us back the way we would wish. And that’s how love often works.

Clearly—gift giving is no substitute for the daily hard work of loving each other day in and day out, through thick and thin. But when that hard work is crowned by an extravagant gift (extravagance being purely relative to each individual’s circumstance and resources), the gift becomes a wonderful expression and symbol of the love that it represents.

So is it such a bad thing to get over myself long enough to consider a way, through a tangible gift, to encourage and bring a little joy to others? I’m thinking…no.

God is the first and most supreme gift giver. Clearly, it brings God joy to give to us. For Christians, consider this: Besides life itself, is there any more lavish gift than one’s first-born and only son? As if that weren’t enough, God’s giving doesn’t even stop there. He continues to open his hand to us. Should we do any less?

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8: 31-32

Now, I’m ready to go Christmas shopping.

Read Denis Prager’s thoughtful essay.

 

© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

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