Today is January 6th, the date chosen in the western Christian calendar as Epiphany. Epiphany is associated with the Magi arriving from the east with expensive gifts for the Christ child, though we are not told how old this child would have been when they arrived. The Magi are astrologers guided by a star. Their appearance is described in ways that give the story an exotic and cosmopolitan feel. We associate these persons with King-like features and apparel. The gifts they bring are symbolic but they are also clearly expensive. It is not surprising that culture has coopted this story to reinforce our own sense of gift-giving to the Christmas season.
We are an age that more than any other before us puts the individual in general and us as valued persons in particular, at the centre of the stories we tell. This is both highly important and good and problematic and troublesome. It means that no longer can our culture in the west so easily pass over the needs and rights of individuals in the interests of a conformity most of the public sees as normative. I am so glad that a “rights” and individual culture will not let the majority crush the interests of gays, lesbians, minorities, women, or anyone not seen to be acting in our traditional roles.
But with this shift comes some other effects that can be problematic. Children are raised to see the world from a self-interested point of view, from the beginning of our consciousness we are taught to care for ourselves, protect our interests and not let anyone push us into commitments that are outside our concern. It’s led to a very libertarian mindset in the western mindset.
So when it comes to Christmas we see the gifts we receive as ones we are entitled to, gifts we need to validate our materialistic desires, and the gifts that reinforce the value we place on the relationship. So we spend less time on giving gifts to those who need them and more time and money on giving gifts to those we value, whether they need them or not. We run into the optic of a person walking by a Salvation Army kettle in a large Mall to a store to purchase a gift for someone we know and value but who needs that gift like someone in BC needs a parka.
And so on this day as take down our decorations, look at the gift cards and bags, take down that large tree and put it by the curb we can take stock of these “gifts” of the season and ask “what will linger through the year?” Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh are memorable gifts that speak to the need to symbolically honour the one we call Messiah and Christ. But how we do we honour this Christ child with gifts we don’t need, buying things for others who didn’t need our gifts? How is the planet, God’s good Creation, honoured by these purchases that further taxes the sustainability of this Earth we all call home?
I find the process of “un-decorating” to be enormously helpful. Kim, Lucy and I see the decorations we have that we no longer use. (They are all high quality so make for excellent gifts for friends without same.) The gifts are also interesting, all by our 2X4 tree, because it is easy for we three to divide those gifts we will use and enjoy from those we would not use. The latter gifts will be given to others. My family and friends know this about me and thus more and more the gifts I receive are gift cards to coffee shops, which fit perfectly in the slots of the 2X4 tree!
On this day of gifts and taking down of decorations consider what we honour, who we honour and how we honour this Christ child with our gifts.