Take it one step further. What if, rather than spending all that money on each other, we spent the money on “the least of these?” What if, instead of fulfilling our perceived "needs," we filled the real needs of people around the world as our gift to our friends and family, by giving a family in Zambia a milk cow or someone in the Uganda honeybees. That $150 Kinect for XBOX 360 will be yesterday's news next Christmas. The milk cow and the honeybees, which you can help provide for $50 or less, will be providing much needed nutrients for years to come.
Maybe you don't feel like you can afford to just "give" your money away, even if it is for a good cause. In financial times like these, many of us really can't. Just keep in mind, if it is bad for us in the world's riches nation, it is probably worse for others around the world. So, here's an alternative to alternative gift giving ideas: microloans. Groups like kiva.org are pulling together small (or even large) amounts of money from those who have to help out those who have less. It is an opportunity for those who are "the least of these" to, through their own inventiveness and hard work as well as the good will of others, better their lives through loans they would not have had access to otherwise.
Does all of this mean I'm suggesting that there should be no presents to open around the tree this Christmas and we'll just have to sit there and...and talk? (I know, sounds horrible doesn't it?) No, that's not what it means. Over and beyond giving cards to let people know what you have done for "the least of these" in their name, there are plenty of other ways to give that doesn't mean throwing inordinate amounts of cash at the large companies that frequently, through questionable production and employment practices, take advantage of "the least of these" around the world so that we can play video games for less than 200 bucks. Check out buynothingforchristmas.org and sites like it for more information.
In doing these things, not only will you be helping those in need, but you will also be helping fight the systems of domination that help keep the under-served “in their place.” In order to prepare the way for the Lord, in order to begin to taste what the peaceable kingdom of God here on earth might be like, we must (as John the Baptist told us) lower the mountains and raise the valleys - if you have more than you need share with those who do not have enough, begin dismantling systems that support consumption and domination. (see my sermon “All Means All”).
As Christians we should stand more strongly in our convictions and start looking critically at the domination system out of which we operate. We should stop shopping at stores that get their goods from places that require workers to perform for little pay in substandard and sometimes unhealthy work conditions. Which means not buying clothes from places like Wal-Mart and even Target. We should stop buying food from places that take advantage of migrant workers, overlooking their human rights in an effort to provide cheep food. Which means we stop eating at places like McDonald's, Taco Bell and Subway until they correct their dominating ways (like all three have in their most recent cases). We should stop allowing our consumer oriented lifestyles to destroy our environment. We should show compassion to workers around the world by buying Fare Trade goods, so that we can be insured that no one is being dominated or taking advantage of because of our support.
This Christmas, let's honor the greatest gift of all by giving the world the greatest gift we can give it - peace, real peace. As worshipers of the Prince of Peace, let's take a stand again our domination oriented systems of consumerism and adopt instead a peacefully oriented system of compassion.
Education is the first step. So, go learn more about things like Living Wages, Fare Trade Goods and Advent Conspiracy... and start living into compassion.
This Christmas lets give the best we have, let's give ourselves to God and to the work of God. Let us deny the shallow consumerist disposition of the systems of domination and leap into the depths of a life lived in compassion. Let's prepare the way for God by leading peaceable lives that value ALL flesh. This Christmas let 's begin living lives that will allow us, and all of God's children, to have a taste of what the peaceable kingdom of God might be like.