Celebrating Epiphany

wise menWhat is it about Epiphany that makes it so appealing? Is it because it’s usually the first Sunday of a new year? Is there something about the wise men that captures our imagination? Is it the music, from “We Three Kings of Orient Are” to “As With Gladness Men of Old”? I can’t put my finger on it, but there was certainly more energy in the air today at church than there was, say last week, the Sunday after Christmas. And I know it won’t be as easy to command their attention with the Baptism of our Lord next week.

My grandson spent about thirty minutes looking at and playing with the characters in the stable on display in the sanctuary, as three camels and three wise men joined the shepherds, sheep, cow, donkey and the holy family. For the children’s sermon I had some frankincense and myrrh for them to smell. They weren’t impressed. But they know what the gold was! They got to take a shiny gold coin with them because I had plenty – a bag of 144 for just a few bucks.

There is something exotic, mysterious, and treacherous about these visitors from the east. We’re not sure we trust them. They don’t prove themselves until they return home a different way instead of reporting back to Herod. They bring great gifts that point to Jesus’ roles as king, priest and sacrifice.

A bright star, an angelic dream, several fulfilled prophecies, and a dramatic escape – it’s just a great story, I guess.

No gifts for you!

david-everett-strickler-60328.jpgMy wife and I stopped buying Christmas gifts for each other a long time ago.

Why? Read on.

It wasn’t always that way. Early on in our marriage we did buy gifts for each other. What kind of gifts? Beats me. I don’t remember any of them. Actually, that’s not true. I remember one, but only because we video-recorded opening gifts one year in Connecticut. She got me a beard trimmer. I got her some kind of personal grooming thing. That may have been the moment when we both realized, “This is stupid.” We were spending money, often in short supply, on gifts for each other for no other reason than the culture demanded that we buy gifts for each other. It was a lot more fun buying toys for the kids. It was a lot more fun going somewhere and doing something. That may have been the year we decided to not worry about buying Christmas gifts for each other. And we’ve never looked back.

One of the reasons this makes a lot of sense is that I just don’t have much that I want. My Amazon.com wish list is pathetic. If you ask me, what do you want for Christmas, I won’t have much to offer. Frustrating? You bet. I have forgotten about, thrown away, and given away most of the gifts we’ve received over the years. Bottom line: why bother?

If you have read this far, you have probably categorized us as scrooges, which is pretty judgmental and harsh. Come one, give us a break. We have replaced the ceremonial, obligatorial (how do you like that word?) gift-giving mechanism with something that means much more to us. I always create a Christmas card with a poem for Lisa. Then, we invest our Christmas gift dollars into either going to be with our kids, or bringing them here to spend Christmas with us. Believe me, that is a precious, valuable, and memorable gift! Nothing else (not even a nice bottle of scotch or bourbon) will touch that in the gift category!

Our Christmas memory book is filled with photos of our times together, not the merchandise exchanged. Our mental memory books are filled with images of family, places, laughter, births, marriages, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and parties together. It’s not the stuff, folks, but the relationships and experiences that I want.

This is our year to have everyone at our home for Christmas. In a perfect world, we get every other year. I told my wife today that I have saved up seven months of patience to spend with our grandchildren (ages 3, 2 and 1), so bring it! I will push the swing, play with dinosaurs, line up the miniature cars, eat pretend food, color pictures, make worms with the Playdoh, roll in the grass, pull the bike trailer, push the swing, and read stories until I drop from exhaustion! There is nothing you can give me that can compare to hugging my tall, handsome son and my beautiful, diminutive daughters! (Take a breath girls, and focus on “beautiful”…)

This year, our family exchanged names, so that we only buy one gift for one other person. Grandchildren are exempt. We can buy as many toys for them as we want. But for the exchange, our gifts must be homemade or experiential. It wasn’t mine, but it is a very cool idea. I have received homemade journals in the past, definitely a winner, because I go through three or four a year. I wouldn’t complain if my gift were a few shots or beers at a local establishment. I promise to write about my gift, both given and received, right after our Christmas/New Year celebration.

Do you want to get off the hamster wheel of Christmas gift giving and receiving? Stop giving stuff. Give to a charity. Then, take your significant other out and do something fun. Trust me, it will be worth it!

 

 

Christmas feels better already

I’ll be encouraging our church to think along the lines of Advent Conspiracy this year. This book, video and study by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder really makes you take stock of how commercial Christmas has become, and how much more it could be if we worship fully, spend less, give more and love all instead.

To be fair, though, I don’t know that we chose to create a Christmas that was all about spending, debt, quantity, extravagance and gifts void of meaning. I was raised that way. For boomers like me, that’s what it was all about. My dad has slides (kind of like filmstrips that you can project instead of snapshots to pass around, for you who have no idea what slides are) of our Christmases that were consumption oriented. And we didn’t even have that much. But we had a lot. It was great. We loved it. We had a great time. Our stockings contained an orange and a penny, from a past generation for whom fruit and pennies were valuable commodities.

But in the last decade or so, I ran up against a wall when it came to Christmas. Having lost touch with the lifestyles of my family and in-laws, we had no idea what to get them for Christmas. They had no idea what our lives were like, either. So we began exchanging worthless gifts. We’d send each other a $25 gift card. We broke even. One year we got a gift card we couldn’t even use because that franchise wasn’t in our area. Money flushed down the Christmas toilet.

We even had a hard time coming up with gifts for our kids. There wasn’t that much anyone wanted. Christmas became really frustrating.

I, for one, am glad that we are making gifts for each other, giving money to some worthy causes, and scaling back our Christmas. Even before I’ve really done much, it feels better already.