People didn’t exchange gifts when Jesus was born, so why do we?

It’s odd how we associate Jesus’ birth with giving gifts to each other, because no gifts were given to anyone, including Jesus, when he was born. The only gifts given came from the Magi and were given to Jesus some time after he was born, possibly as much as one or two years later. And the Magi didn’t give their gifts to Jesus in a manger either, because in Matthew 2:10-11 the Magi came to “the house” where Jesus lived. The house wasn’t in Bethlehem either; it was in Nazareth.

So the Christmas scene pictured by The Little Drummer Boy bringing the gift of his drumming to Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, with the ox and lamb tapping in time, is totally out of tune (pardon the pun) with what really happened.

With that in mind, then, why do we exchange gifts at Christmas-time, when no gifts were exchanged by anybody at Jesus’ birth, and the only gifts given went to Jesus, and not to anyone else, long after he’d left the manger?

A brief look at the history of giving gifts at Christmas soon reveals the usual “rich and cunning exploiting the poor and well-meaning” story of commercial greed behind the custom, but even with that knowledge will gift-giving stop? Likely not, because even “evil people know how to give good gifts to their children,” Matthew 7:11.

It’s built right into us to want to give gifts, which helps explain why people with no interest whatsoever in why Jesus was born, or what staggering part of God’s plan for humanity opened up because of Jesus’ birth, are so willing to exchange gifts at Christmas-time – and even when they know they’re being bled dry by rich corporations too. It’s an amazing phenomenon, that we’re willing collaborators with evil people just for the pleasure of giving gifts.

But on the positive side, is that not proof that what Jesus was born for is bearing fruit? If we can still want to give gifts – despite knowing we’re being exploited by fat, selfish and crafty people in commerce – and we can still put up with the mind-numbing, guilt-inducing blitz of advertising capitalizing on peer pressure, then we’ve got just the proof we need that what was announced at Jesus’ birth really is happening.

The announcement was that peace would come to those “on whom God’s favour rests” (Luke 2:14). Well, because of Jesus’ birth God’s favour rests on everyone, enabling us to give as he gives, even to people who don’t deserve it. And every year we keep doing it, despite the obvious exploitation by evil people. Evil isn’t winning, then, is it, even though it thinks it is.