Publisher's note: This post, by Ray Nothstine, was originally published in Civitas's online edition.
"He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree."
When I was about 11 or 12-years-old there was one Christmas that I received so many presents I actually became bored from opening them. Usually, I wasn't spoiled, but it was a year my mom went a little overboard on the gifts. We had extra cash that year. It was a great and early learning experience about the limits of materialism. I probably felt a little bit of embarrassment for receiving so much too. Fortunately, I've had a lot of time to think about Christmas and what it means since all that loot rained down.
I like Christmas because it brings out this giving spirit. But why do we give? Certainly to bring joy to others. We like making friends and family happy. We like seeing kids and especially our own kids excited.
But mostly I like Christmas because it points to our need. And even if we don't feel like we are in need, it's easy to read all the news accounts of people in need all over our state and the entire world. That's why I appreciate all these charitable groups like The Salvation Army
or Toys for Tots
. I love that there are people in this great nation that are giving of their wealth and time without demanding any attention or accolades. Just doing that now in an age of extreme vanity is quite countercultural. Ronald Reagan made a great observation that rings true: "Long before there was a government welfare program, the spirit of voluntary giving was ingrained in the American character."
The truth is we are all in need and some of us just recognize it more. And I love that in the Nativity and Incarnation there is this great reversal. That's what is so magical about Christmas. The gift from God is all about turning things right side up. Those that are poor, those that are diseased, those that suffer are no less than others. That's an important truth in conservatism and more importantly, it's an essential truth of the Gospel. In fact, Christ himself tells us
, "The last shall be first, and the first last."
It's hard to be lowly. Some of us have been there and it's so much easier at the top. But one of the good things about being low is how much you recognize your own need and the need of others. Everything we really see today in our culture, all the bickering, brokenness, and division, is a reminder that we are in need of a savior. Certainly, that's true of all the promises we hear from presidential candidates that will never fulfill us or even be fulfilled. Amazingly, with all that is going on, few have the eyes and ears to hear and see this truth.
It's our job to reflect the goodness and to give out of abundance. It's never too late for change and that's one of the great truths of Christmas. As the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted so well:
- Who of us would want to celebrate Christmas correctly? Who will finally lay at the manger all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all pride, and all selfishness? Who is content to be lowly and to let God alone be high? Who sees the glory of God in the humble state of the child in the manger? Who says with Mary: 'The Lord has been mindful of my humble state. My soul praises the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior?' Amen.