Spreading Christmas Cheer Junk
Several years ago I was listening to a Christian radio station. The setting was Christmas time. The morning DJs were talking to callers about giving gifts. One man called in and told a story about how he and his young kids gave gifts to needy children. He told the entire radio audience “We gathered up all the toys the kids no longer played with. Wrapped them up, and took them to our church. Then we waited to see which child would pick the toys we brought. To see the excited expressions on their faces was wonderful.”
The DJs praised this man for doing something so commendable. But, was what he did really admirable? From the man’s story, one phrase kept ringing in my ears: “the toys the kids no longer played with.” Now, I don’t know who this man was, or the disposition of his children. Yet, this phrase just rang so discordant throughout his whole tale. The toys the kids no longer played with. Why did the kids no longer play with those toys? Did they have too many toys that they had forgotten about them? Did they have to reach into the bottom of the toy box to get them? Were they so used to the novelty of getting new toys that the mystique of the old toys had worn off? Were they broken, worn, missing pieces? Were they no longer the cool toys?
My mind was drawn to the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. No kid wants to play with a “Charlie in the Box” or a train with square wheels on his caboose. Now this stop-motion movie from 1964 personifies the “misfit toys” so that they are imbued with more worth than actual toys have. So we can’t transfer our emotions for those fictional toys to the real ones. The toys this man and his kids gave to those poor children might have just been “misfit.”
The man told of how the faces of the disadvantaged kids faces would light up when they opened their gifts. To their credit, those kids demonstrated real gratitude in receiving second-hand gifts. But, what lesson had this father really demonstrated to his children by giving gifts that cost them nothing?
King David refused to give a gift to God that cost him nothing. In 2 Samuel 24, Gad the prophet brought the word of the LORD (YAHWEH) to King David. YAHWEH had commanded that David build an altar to him on the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite. David went to Araunah to buy his land in order to make an altar. Araunah offered to give David the land, the oxen, the threshing sledges, and yokes for the altar and the offering. King David, however, would not accept the gift. He said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that costs me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).
I am not saying that giving second-hand stuff is always inconsiderate. The toys this man and his children gave may very well have been decent, well-preserved toys, but, giving these toys cost them nothing.
In Malachi 1:6, God accuses his people of offering “misfit” animals for the sacrifice. This offering was nothing less than sacrilege. In fact, God called it “evil.” (Malachi 1:8). It is the height of profanity and sacrilege to offer God something that costs us nothing.
In what way do we give God an offering that costs us nothing? I am reminded of something I observed in church. My family and I were attending a church that made a big deal about giving God a “hand clap of praise.” (For a perspective on why a “hand clap of praise” may not actually be an appropriate way to give praise to God check out this blog post.) Every Sunday between the ending of singing and the announcements, the pastor whose turn it was to give the announcements would say, on his way to the pulpit before he started, “Let’s give the Lord a hand clap of praise” and nearly everyone would oblige. One Sunday after the “hand clap of praise” command was given, I observed another pastor clapping his hands while looking around at his seat, as if he was searching for something. At that point his focus did not appear to be on God, but on what he was searching for. Yet, he was still clapping, as if offering God a “hand clap of praise.” It seemed to me to be more of an absentminded exercise. Now, he was a good man, but this gesture of worship really cost him nothing.
The Preacher warns us to be careful when we enter the LORD’s house not to offer mindless worship. “Do not be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God…Therefore, let your words be few…When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.” Ecclesiastes 5:2, 4. Words mean things. When we sing “I surrender all” do we really mean it? How many times have we made that vow and broken it? “Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” Ecclesiastes 5:6. Better to be silent before the Almighty God than to utter mindless words we have no intention on fulfilling.
I know this post is not the warm, fuzzy, feel-good message people like to hear around Christmastime. But, what I say rings with truth. In our gift giving this year, let us not offer gifts to God and spread Christmas junk to others that costs us nothing. After all, the gift that God gave the world that first Christmas morn cost him the death of His Son.