Voices of Religion: The gifts of the first Christmas: joy and peace

Posted: Friday, December 03, 2010

One week ago was Black Friday when herds of wild shoppers swept majestically across the plains, denuding stores of all that was nutritious and needful. Last Monday was Cyber Monday, when the herds crossed into virtual reality to seek a few extra crumbs. According to PCWorld, Nov. 30, 2010, it is estimated we spent $45 billion at retail stores Friday, up 6 percent over last year, and we likely hit $1 billion on Cyber Monday, an increase of 20 percent. For those still deciding, the two hottest technology gifts for this year look to be Microsoft's Kinect, the motion controller for the Xbox 360, and the iPad.

Now I'm not opposed to giving gifts for Christmas and would love to have an iPad (how's that for dropping a hint?) but such a massive surge of shopping should make us stop and think.

Pam Abbey, pastor of the Faith United Methodist Fellowship in Fresno, California, wrote in 1991 about the Hallowthankmas season, a three month "marathon of card-sending, party-throwing, putting up and taking down decorations, overeating and over-buying," and then says something still relevant. She notes, "Americans during Hallowthankmas remind me of myself on those vaguely blue, out-of-sorts evenings when I find myself standing in front of the refrigerator with a spoon and a carton of ice cream. I want something. I'm not sure what, but ice cream will have to do. It's sweet and comforting and plentiful and it takes my mind off whatever it is that I want but don't have."

Her comment makes me think about what we want but don't have, what we merely settle for. Now, let me be clear. I'm glad Christmas is a season of giving. Christmas is about remembering the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ. God sent his Son to demonstrate his love and to bring his children home. Our generosity is a reflection of his.

But Black Friday and Cyber Monday indicate unmet needs and longings deep in our hearts. Christmas buying may become for us all merely a comforting distraction from inner pain.

Deep down, our true longings are for the gifts the angels promised to the shepherds back when Jesus was born. Now more than ever, we long for good news, glad tidings of joy, and peace on earth.

Those words aren't just words to the songs we'll sing over the next month. Listen more closely to the radio and choir. Joy and peace are the promises of the first Christmas. They're the gifts God wants to give to every man, woman and child. They're the gifts that fill the heart instead of distracting it, the gifts that allow a person to rest at night and walk with a bounce in his or her steps during the day.

May God pour his gifts on a tired and longing world. May he pour them in your heart this season. And may we all be ready to receive.

Rick Cupp is minister of the Kenai Fellowship, Mile 8.5 Kenai Spur Highway, 283-7682. Sunday Bible classes are at 10 a.m.; worship at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday worship and Bible classes are at 7 p.m.

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