Christmas morning was always the best time of the whole year. My sisters and I would count the minutes until we could get downstairs and open all those presents under the tree. Each day we’d recite a litany about how many days until that most glorious of all mornings. “Tomorrow we can say, 45 days until Christmas Eve!” Each day we recalculated to make sure we had our countdown correct. Until, finally, we got to that last night, the hardest and longest night of all—Christmas Eve. “Tomorrow we can say, today is Christmas Day!” With all the excitement on that night there was little if any hope of getting to sleep at all. I’d lay in bed and watch the reflection of car headlights shine through my window. They would move across the wall as the cars came down the hill and turned the corner adjacent to our house.
I’m pretty sure I took all this too seriously. For me, the measure of success was in receiving more presents than last year; more money spent on us than the year before. Bigger and better presents was the key!
We all knew it was Jesus’ birthday. As a good Catholic family we all knew the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, and the baby being born in a stable. Set up our little nativity scene every year, right along with the wreath and the tree and the lights and the stockings—hung by the chimney with care, of course.
We knew about baby Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried. And who rose again on the third day. We knew all that. We talked about it, learned it, and had it pounded into us at church. That’s all a family can do, right?
No matter how much we spoke of Jesus, we kids also knew that the real event of Christmas was the haul we pulled in on Christmas morning and how much money was spent ln us. We were kids, after all. There was Jesus, and then there was Christmas morning. Surely we could do both? All the money spent on gifts is fine, as long as you talked about the baby Jesus, right?
I’ve carried much of those attitudes into my adult life with our children. I have to admit, it was fun to get them the biggest and most exciting presents we could pay for. To see how wide their eyes would open when they saw the piles of gifts under the tree every year.
Our children knew all about the nativity story too. We’d even reenact it with the Olivewood figures of the nativity scene. Even better because it came from Bethlehem. We put the whole manger story right in the middle of all the other Christmas things. That’s all a family can do, right? All the money spent on gifts is fine, as long as we talked about the baby Jesus, right?
It works great. Until we get a text like this one this morning. In the context of Christmas morning, this passage sounds quite different. More real. Very real.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and wealth.
I wonder if we’re trying to serve two masters with all our Christmas traditions. Can we serve our consumer-driven celebrations alongside the newborn Savior? Jesus is saying in today’s text that one of them is going to win out over the other. I’ll admit, as a kid, Santa trumps the baby Jesus every time. But is that the way it needs to be? Despite our best intentions, when we put the manger and the presents side by side in our Christmas traditions, we actually are trying to serve both God and consumerism. It can’t work. And, it looks like consumerism is winning.
I think there’s a way through this. Let’s look at this from the perspective of these two different masters—Christ and consumerism.
–Consumerism’s priority is about what we can spend.
–Christ’s priority is about what we can give.
Both of these two ideals seek our following. In following Christ, we can do more than talk about Jesus in the manger at Christmastime. We can imitate him, serve him, follow him. We can deliberately choose to spend less and give more. Spending less takes power away from money and consumerism, and recognizes the life-giving power of God who gives away everything to come into our world as a baby.
I read about a family in Austin, TX who decided to follow Jesus instead of consumerism more closely at Christmas. They decided to significantly cut their spending budget on presents. Of course, they wondered how their children would react, whether or not the kids would understand or feel ripped off. Here’s what they said,
When we first talked with the boys about changing our Christmas budget, they were a little disappointed. But looking back, I don’t remember seeing any of that on Christmas Day. [We] are so grateful . . . We knew things didn’t feel right, that there was something askew with our Christmases—but we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong. I remember thinking something must be missing. Maybe there was something more . . .
They discovered there was more joy, more meaning at Christmastime. That’s what Christmas really is. A celebration of the birth of Jesus, the gift of God with us. That is the source of joy and meaning in our lives. That is something we can celebrate: God’s gift of love to us. This Christmas, we can share that gift of love with more purpose and more meaning by spending less so we can give more.
 McKinley, Seay, Holder, Advent Conspiracy, p. 71 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018)