A Modest Defense of Gift Giving

You’ll get no argument from me about the fact that Christmas has become increasingly commercialized here in the Unites States. There’s certainly a danger for all of us to spend more money than we should to populate the space around our Christmas trees. And in the face of this reality, Christians rightly warn against the focus shifting away from the miraculous incarnation of Jesus to discount deals and consumer spending statistics.

Even so, I personally hope that appropriate warnings don’t give rise to a full-throated “bah humbugs” or the notion that Christmas presents somehow cut against the grain of the holiday itself. And so I offer a brief and modest defense of gift-giving.

Fundamentally speaking, our reason for giving gifts is a biblical one. As Jani Ortland points out:

Giving gifts was God’s idea. The joy of generosity for both the giver and receiver originates in heaven. We give because God gives. We never want to take lightly the cost of Christmas to God the Father or his Son, Jesus Christ, who, “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Familiarity with the Christmas story can sometimes dull our astonishment toward the Incarnation. But if ever there was something to celebrate, surely it’s the fact that God condescended in grace to give us…himself! That the Lord of heaven and earth would become something so small and limited as a baby boy, and that he would do this in order live and die in such a way to free us from our sins and give us eternal life with him—that is a gift of inestimable value.

By giving and receiving during this season, my family and I have an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the overflowing grace of the gospel. And if the admittedly smaller and temporary fun of opening presents on Christmas morning can help kids and parents alike to associate anticipation and joy with the coming of Jesus (both past and future), then I’ll happily take it.

Can our gift giving go off the rails? Of course. There might be times when we need to reevaluate things like how much we’re spending, or do more to cultivate the right kind of context for giving that new bike or PlayStation game. And alongside giving to our family and friends, we’ll do well to think about how the gospel might motivate us to give toward those with real needs in our community and elsewhere.

But like so many things, the fact that we’re incapable of always giving and receiving presents with the best attitudes or motivations doesn’t mean we should sour on the enterprise entirely.

So hang the stockings and ring the tree as a way to celebrate the gracious gift of a Jesus Christ, God with Us, the Savior we so desperately need.

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