Escape commercialism this Christmas

12/11/08
Suburban News Publications

Counting pennies, so to speak, helps us remember the arithmetic we learned in grade school.

Simple math comes back to haunt us when we spend more than we have, or charge more than we can readily pay back. We end up with too many bills, too few pennies.

When I was learning American Sign Language, our first task was to learn finger spelling and numbers. Finger spelling is used to spell names of people, places and things that don’t have an actual sign of its own. But I didn’t realize how much we use numbers in our daily life, so I slacked off, at first, at learning my numbers.

Then the teacher had us ask each other’s address, phone number, age, number of children, and so forth. You get the picture. I flunked that test and went home and practiced signing numbers.

For many, practicing numbers becomes more difficult this time of year.

While banks and businesses are getting billions from the government, we are hit with advertisements from all angles and media. Guilt or old habits might force us to go out and buy, buy, buy, even if we know we can’t spare those pennies right now.

Our country is in a recession, we are now told. Are you surprised? It just gives a name to what we already know; our 401Ks, savings of all kinds and our wallets are losing weight. Even our spare change coin jars are emptying. Our buying power is going plastic and we could get deeper in the hole if we aren’t careful.

I’ve talked with more than one person who is cutting back on spending drastically this Christmas season. Personally, I think this is good. It’s time to take stock of our needs versus our wants; our desires versus our hopes. It’s time to put things in order of relevance. Do our children really need another toy? Or would they benefit more from their parents and siblings sitting down and reading a story or working a puzzle together?

The entire gift giving tradition began after Jesus’ birth. Some time after this day, the kings brought to the newborn King of Kings, gifts of Frankincense, which symbolizes sacrifice, Christ’s divinity and is also a symbol of the Divine name of God.

Gold was a gift to provide his family the means to physically survive and myrrh, which is fragrant oil, would be used to anoint his body before his burial; meaning prophecy told of His death being the main purpose of His life. These were gifts he needed to survive to fulfill His purpose on Earth.

The only reason there is a Christmas is because of Jesus’ birth and remembering that makes the carols sung, the lights shining in expectation, the gift giving and time with family and friends more meaningful.

The more we pull away from the commercialism and realize the true meaning of this season, then whatever gifts we give or receive will mean more to each of us.

Once I taught a choir of elementary-aged children how to sign Silent Night for church. I asked the congregation not to sing the first verse so they would get a true feeling of what songs “sound” like to someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.

The children were amazing and the congregation never did pick up and sing the verses. They watched. They listened in a new way for most of them. Some had tears flowing down their cheeks and smiles were everywhere.

The gift the children gave the congregation was priceless and free at the same time. The focus was on the child born in a manger that would change the world more than any other event in history.

He came on a silent night offering a gift that cost His life so that we could live free from our wrongdoing.

So I urge you to stop counting pennies and take a moment to feel and hear the silence and the beauty of the season.

As one of my favorite hymns states, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going; and soon all those around are warmed up by its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love; once you’ve experienced it … you want to pass it on.”

Sing Silent Night this year listening to the words you sing and think about that silent night more than 2,000 years ago when pennies weren’t even in existence. When charge cards and catalogs stuffing our mailboxes (and bending the postal carriers’ backs) did not exist. What did exist was a child who God sent to this world to live and die for us.

This is, and always will be, the greatest gift of all.

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