Black Friday…Cyber Monday… Our Biggest Sale of the Season… on and on it goes, this gift-giving frenzy that characterizes an American Christmas.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those anti-gift-giving rants that invariably pop up every year. I happen to love gift-giving! OK, yes, and gift-getting, too!
However, reading Isaiah 1:10-20 this morning has reminded me how we can get so caught up in the ritual that we completely lose sight of its purpose.
For at least the past decade, my family has employed Christmas lists. They used to be written on paper, then copied and shared. When email came along, we began sending them electronically. This made life simpler because we could also share what we were giving each individual (except the gift recipient, of course) to eliminate wasted time standing in long post-Christmas gift return lines. Then Amazon developed Wish Lists, making it even easier to create our magnificent gift registries, share them with each other, let Amazon keep track of purchases by simply taking the item off the list once it was purchased, and–the ultimate convenience!–now Amazon even allows us to add items to our list that are not found in Amazon’s vast warehouse! Perfect, right?
It was really fun for a while, but I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with it the past couple of years. I have become so caught up in this path to gift-giving…so enamored with the tool for facilitating gift-giving…that the method has supplanted the underlying reason for the action itself. The giving of a Christmas gift is meant to represent my love for the person I’m giving it to, and the gift should be a result of thoughtful consideration.
Back to Isaiah… The prophet exhorts us to hear the Lord’s rebuke to the Israelites, who have become so enamored of the rituals of worship that they have completely forgotten what the rituals are intended to do: remind us of the One we worship, why we worship Him, and what He most desires from us and for us.
I worship in the Anglican tradition, which has plenty of rituals. I’m grateful that we are encouraged to make use of those which are helpful in our worship rather than become a slave to any of them. When we process in for worship, the lead person lifts up a cross. As I follow behind it, I’m reminded that I follow the risen Christ. When I make the sign of the cross, I do it because at that particular moment in the worship service I’m reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for me, or of the mystery of our triune God. After the offering is collected, the priest lifts the basket heavenward as we sing, and I am reminded that all things do come from God and with grateful hearts we give back a portion of what’s been given to us. All of these rituals are designed to help me remember and reflect on God’s goodness, to foster a humble purity of heart for worship and obedience. This is God’s desire for me and from me, so that I will be fitted and ready for the day when the rituals will no longer be needed because the Kingdom has come in its fullness and worship is the continual reality.
Whatever rituals you may use in worship or in celebrating Christmas (I’ll leave you to ponder which might need attention!), take a little time this week to consider whether they are achieving their intended purpose or whether they have become more prominent than they were ever meant to be. If the latter is true, don’t resort to drastic measures. Rather, allow that awareness to guide you gently back to a proper perspective.
I think I’ll take a little break from Amazon Wish Lists and shop locally for one or two gifts that will be a total surprise!