I was a deprived child. Yes, believe it or not, I was twelve years old before I received my first Christmas present.
It’s true. I am not making this up.
No doubt many of you are reaching for your cheque book exclaiming, “Oh that poor boy! Let’s send him some money to make up for all those years of not getting any Christmas presents!”
A great idea! It’s never too late to send me money. But before you do, my conscience compels me to explain.
I grew up in the Netherlands where mid-winter gift giving was done, not at Christmas, but three weeks earlier on the December 5th – the birthday of St. Nicholas, called Sinterklaas by all Dutch children. We sang songs about him and placed our wooden shoes by the fireplace that night, where we found presents the next morning, December 6th, (the day you receive this blog post).
Christmas, therefore, was totally given over to remembering the birth of Jesus with no gift giving involved at all. It seems that the Dutch and the Flemish are unique in this practice. They are unique in many other ways too—highly intelligent, incredibly handsome, excessively hard-working and, of course, extremely humble—knowing me, you already knew that.
When we emigrated to Canada, our parents took a dim view of mixing Christmas and presents. They felt it was somewhat sacrilegious and detracted from the meaning of Christmas. And that was half a century before the current commercialized shopping frenzy that for many people eclipses the celebration of our Saviour’s birth.
On the other hand, there is something very appropriate about celebrating the birth of Christ by giving gifts. Jesus Himself was God’s gift to mankind—the greatest gift of all. The wise men worshiped Him by bringing three valuable gifts. In many cultures of the world, people celebrate the birthdays of friends and relatives by giving them presents.
200 Billion Dollars
But don’t you find it a little odd to celebrate Someone’s birthday by giving presents to each other, and not to the Person whose birthday it is? I doubt Jesus is positively impressed with the estimated 200 billion dollars ($200,000,000,000) worth of gifts that are expected to be exchanged on His birthday in North America. What probably does impress Him, however, is what many Christians are doing.
Remember the “reaching for your chequebook” attempt at humour a few paragraphs ago? Here is the serious side.
Reaching for our chequebook is exactly what Jo and I, and a growing number of Christians do at this time of year. We count up how much money we spend on presents to family and friends, and then give the same amount to benefit the desperately poor around the world.
Conservatively estimating one out of ten North Americans to be Christians, if all of us Christians did this, over twenty billion dollars ($20,000.000.000) would be given to make an immense impact in meeting extreme world needs.
Jesus Thought of it First
What’s more, this is a biblically sound policy. One day, Jesus told an end-of-the-world story about people who in their life on earth had helped the poor, fed the hungry, and cared for the sick and the homeless. At the end He concluded, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV).
This Christmas let’s use our money to help someone who is in financial need and is physically, emotionally or spiritually deprived.
It will be our birthday present to Jesus. He’ll be pleased!