When Jesus told the rich young man to “go sell everything, give the money to the poor and come follow Me,” He set a pretty high standard for everyone, didn’t He? In that sense, even the over-commercialization and materialization of Christmas by Americans since at least the 1960s can be seen in the most generous light possible as “out-doing one another with love and affection,” although there is far more to the Christian Gospel than the number of video games a parent can give their children.
Not everyone can be Mother Teresa, who led a life of faith and total commitment with her work in Calcutta among the poor and diseased. She “gave it her all.” Nor can everyone be a martyr for the Christian cause by giving their lives to oppose evil and oppression like Dietrich Bonhoeffer did when he opposed the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany.
Short of such maximum material and personal physical sacrifice, maybe the question then becomes about whether or not what you have done is “good enough,” not about whether you have given away all of your possessions or sacrificed your life. Maybe it is more about the spirit of your life, your telos for being.
Would anything on earth be any different had Jesus not been born over two millennia ago? Forget all the hair-splitting about whether Jesus was born in the winter in the Middle East on Dec. 25 — there was no Gregorian calendar to refer to in Year Zero anyway since it wasn’t adopted until 1582 A.D. — or in the spring or fall.
What is different is when people read and hear the story about the birth of Christ, they tend to reflect on their own lives and see if they are living a life of generosity and mercy towards others instead of selfish, insulated, self-centered existences. It always comes down to giving, not receiving.
Christ came in the form of man from God as a baby born to a virgin to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 700 years before. He came to be the sacrifice for all of the sins we commit on a daily basis and to regain the favor of God for all mankind in a definite, final but yet on-going process, since we can’t do it on our own.
Christ gave more than enough to us. He gave everything.
Regardless of whether you believe the Christmas story or not, we can all ask this question to ourselves: Have I “given enough” love, charity and forgiveness in my small, meager human way? Have I loved my family, much less my neighbors, “enough” this past year? Have I loved my family and neighbors as much as myself in ways they would notice and appreciate?
Have we collectively “given enough” to the poor, not just in financial support or food but in true Christian charity and love? Sometimes all it takes for someone who seemingly has it all going for them is to take the time to say a kind word to someone who is struggling in this temporal world. Sometimes all it takes is to invite a new person sitting next to you to come home with you for what Southerners used to call Sunday dinner after church. Sometimes all it takes is to invite them into your home, your inner sanctum and just be a friend to them.
Isn’t that part of what Jesus told the rich young man to do, spend more time with others outside of his social circle? Jesus spent far more time with the poor, the weak, the diseased, the tax collectors and shamed women than He ever did with the polished upper-crust society of ancient Judea.
You don’t have to give away everything to give enough to those who need it. And you can do it the whole year long and be a gift to everyone you meet. Not just during Christmas time.