photoWe have a tree up in our house (see proof to the left!) but no Christmas presents underneath.

It's not that I haven't had time to go shopping . . . I guess I could have made some time if I really wanted to go to the mall (somehow going straight home after work has been more appealing). It's not that I don't like giving gifts or even shopping (when it is has a time limit).

In actuality love giving gifts. I enjoy coming up with creative gift ideas for people I love, and the time shopping to get them doesn't bug me at all. In my house growing up, I was always the designated Christimas wrapper. I'm pretty good at making bows for packages, in fact.

But, I can't seem to get my head into it all this year.  Yet, no matter how I feel, Christmas is coming soon. I've got to get motivated!

I think my resistance stems from this: I don't need anything. The people I am going to give something to don't need anything either.

We live in a country of plenty. Over the travels of this year, I know this fully well.

In America, we "want" is usually incorrectly mixed up with the word "need." Most people I know usually are able to buy something for themself if they really need it or at least save up over a period of time for an item. Sadly, most of us use Christmas to further our dependency on consumerism, in an effort to say we've celebrated the holiday.

Katharine Whitehorn is attributed to saying about our world's obsession with Christmas by saying, " From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it." I read this quote and immediately said, "Oh gee."

What's the larger point, when we know as Christians that we are celebrating a spiritual holiday? Is the act of gift-giving really that bad? Of course you sound super spiritual this time of year if you say, "I'm not buying my kids or spouse more than one present." Or, "I'm only giving gifts from alternative Christmas markets" But as we all know, I am not that spiritual and I bet you aren't either.  Maybe there is a balance.

Those three kings did bring Jesus gifts in adoration of his Lordship after all. . . .

I believe what all of us need more of is not piles of presents under the tree with our names on them, but love expressed. Author Harlan Miller said: "Probably theChristmas Presents reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don't quite know how to put our love into words."

What we all really need is the gift of each other. People in our lives who risk the vulnerability of telling us what we mean to them. Our risking doing the same. Taking time to make those we love feel special and appreciated. Helping each other remember how much God loves us all.

A congregation member of mine once told me about a new tradition she created in her family. Instead of giving gifts to each other, when they gathered, they all wrote letters. Each member of the family took the time to write a reflective letter about something they'd given/ participated in that was an act of service. And then perched the letters physically on the tree at the family gathering.  After dinner, when everyone sat down in the living room, the small children still got a few presents, but the adults then shared their letters with one another. This ritual became a way to teach the children (and remind each other as adult too) what giving is really all about. And remember that Christmas' emphasis on service is indeed for the entire year, not just December.

I know several churches and families like this one have or are thinking of creative ways to participate in Advent in non-traditional ways. I say bring it on! Share any good ideas you or your family have come up with for alternative giving here in the comment section. I want to learn from you.

In the meantime, I am going to keep staring at my Christmas tree, hoping to get inspired.