Soon we will enter into a new Season of Advent. Some folks think it's the Season of Christmas Shopping, a time of heightened compulsions to spend money in the name of generosity and gift-giving. It's consumerism in the guise of getting into the "spirit" of Christ's birthday.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a consumer, too. Buying gifts for others can honor Jesus, but only if we purchase items that would please Jesus, and only in the amount that would adhere to good stewardship. Are we doing anything that helps families that are suffering from job lay-offs, illness, or loss, or is our gift-giving ear-marked only for our own family and friends?
In today's Gospel reading, we see Jesus ejecting the merchants from the outer grounds of the holy temple. Not only did this hurt their income, it also affected the shoppers who planned on buying what they "needed" to fulfill their religious obligations.
How obligated do you feel about buying gifts? ("Aunt Susie always sends me a $30 check for Christmas, so I have to get her something that costs $30, even though we forget about each other the rest of the year.") When we prayerfully select gifts as a gesture of love instead of an obligation, it's a gift that we give to Jesus, but over-shopping and building credit card debts that we cannot pay off immediately is no blessing to him.
What would Jesus recommend if he were to walk the store aisles with you? Or -- what if he came to your house on Christmas morning while the presents were being opened? Would he approve of everything he sees? Would he ask you to take anything back and get a refund? Would he say, "You have made my birthday a holiday for thieves"?
Before making any purchase, think about the message that it might convey. Is it ethical? Helpful? A true expression of love? A gift you want to give to Jesus? Sometimes, what seems fun and harmless actually hurts Jesus.
For example, when I was twelve years old, I received a Ouija board as a Christmas gift. This so-called game started me on a nine-year journey away from Christ. Harry Potter and other occult-oriented stories and games might do the same thing today. Even if our own children would not experiment with the occult because of such gifts, the opposite is true for somebody else's children. If we reward the producers of occult-oriented books, games, and movies by giving them our money, we're supporting thieves.
Let us make a commitment to glorify God and only God with our Christmas shopping this year!