The Giving That Really Counts
WHO does not appreciate receiving a present from someone who has no ulterior motives? Unselfish giving has real heart appeal. But what about the giving that is part of the Christmas celebration? Is it free from selfish motives? More important, does it meet the noble requirements that the Bible sets for those giving presents? Does it actually count with God?
Many people take for granted that the giving of Christmas presents is in harmony with the Scriptures. This is because they believe that Christmas is a “holy day” that honors Christ and that three “wise men” brought presents for the infant Jesus. But is this the case? What really are the origins of Christmas?
An editorial in the December 1974 issue of MD, a medical journal, stated: “This festive occasion, which in some countries is still regarded as a holy day and not merely as a holiday, combines both religious and secular customs, most of which are drawn from pagan and mythical sources. . . .
“December 25 was originally a sun feast, motivated by the fear of man, whose life depended on the light and warmth of the sun, that the golden-orbed god would not return from his yearly journey into the heavens. . . . In the icy northern lands, the winter solstice was the moment for lighting huge bonfires to lend strength to the winter sun and bring it back to life. The idea of the winter solstice—the return of light—was eventually crystallized in the symbol of the birth of Christ, the Light of mankind. In the fourth century the Fathers of the Church chose the winter solstice as the best date to celebrate the birth of Christ, thus uniting it symbolically with a date of tremendous pagan importance.”—P. 13.
Since the Christmas celebration has ancient non-Christian roots, reasonably we should not expect its features to be in harmony with God’s Word. But might not the characteristic giving of presents be an exception?
There are persons who think that the gifts brought by the “wise men from the east” to the young child Jesus provide the basis for giving Christmas presents. (Matt. 2:1, Authorized Version) The Bible account reads: “When they went into the house they saw the young child with Mary its mother, and, falling down, they did obeisance to it. They also opened their treasures and presented it with gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matt. 2:11) However, these “wise men,” actually an unspecified number of astrologers, simply did what was then customary when visiting someone of note—in this case “one born king of the Jews.” (Matt. 2:2) Regarding the origin of giving Christmas presents, The Encyclopedia Americana (1959 edition, Vol. VI, p. 622) says that from the Roman feast honoring the god Saturn, celebrated toward the end of December, “were derived the elaborate feasting, the giving of gifts, and the burning of candles.”
In view of the ancient idolatrous background of giving Christmas presents, would one’s sharing in it result in favorable recognition from God? How could that be the case when his Word condemns mixing true worship with the darkness of idolatry? We read: “What sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial [Satan]? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever? . . . ‘Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,’ says Jehovah, ‘and quit touching the unclean thing.’”—2 Cor. 6:14-17.
Also, in other respects Christmas giving falls short of what the Scriptures recommend to those who give. Often such Christmas giving is merely an exchanging of gifts. Few persons present gifts with no intent of getting anything back. They do not give for the sheer joy of giving and contributing to the happiness of someone else. Their actions prove that they do not appreciate the words of Jesus Christ, the one whom they profess to honor. Jesus said: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Instead of being a celebration that lifts the spirits of people as a result of their sharing in unselfish giving, Christmas frequently has the very opposite effect. It may result in worry, disappointment and displeasure as a result of what is given and received. “Even for the ‘normal’ individual,” writes Doctor Felix Marti-Ibañez, “Christmas is a period of intensification of many conflicts: dread of solitude, financial, social, and emotional insecurity—in effect, fear of life.”—MD, December 1974, p. 14.
Because of feeling pressured to give, many people find no joy in it. They give simply out of a sense of duty. This, too, is out of harmony with Bible principles. The Scriptures tell us: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”—2 Cor. 9:7.
Giving that counts with God should also be without any showy display. The giver should not call attention to himself. Jesus Christ urged: “When making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, that your gifts of mercy may be in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you.” (Matt. 6:3, 4) Have you not found that this principle is often ignored at Christmastime?
Some persons, of course, may be rightly motivated in their giving. But far too many give just because they feel obligated to do so. Theirs is not the unselfish, openhearted giving that the Bible recommends. Furthermore, regardless of what the motivation may be, Christmas giving perpetuates a practice rooted in ancient idolatry. This is something the Scriptures specifically condemn. How, then, could Christmas giving possibly count with God?
If you want your giving to be acceptable from God’s standpoint, does this not bring you face to face with a decision? Should you not want to discard any practices associated with idolatry? At the same time, would you not find real delight in giving at other times of the year, not under compulsion, but cheerfully, from the heart?