Turns out I kind of miss the word “maverick.”

Last Monday, Mike and I went to Starbucks. I had the salted caramel hot chocolate (just to prove to people that I like to stretch myself – y’all never thought that I would order that, right? Sweet and salty together! It’s like you don’t even know me anymore) and Mike had some kind of ghastly peppermint mocha thing (why mess up the mocha with the peppermint?). And they donated ten cents to Africa. Um, yay, I guess? Ten cents? Really, Starbucks? You can’t spare more than a nickel from this four-dollar cup of coffee? Okay, then.

Those Advent Conspiracy videos have been making the rounds again this year. And, you know, I am totally in favor of cutting down on Christmas spending and sharing time with family. But I think I kind of agree with Geof, too, that it feels a little bit too much like I am being marketed to. Here’s the thing: Mike and I stopped giving each other Christmas presents a few years ago, simply because we could not afford it. It was really difficult that first year. And then it started to feel a little bit subversive, like we had entered this whole new world where we weren’t in a bunch of stress at Christmas. Instead of the stress of retail, we get to do things like Candlefest and Beautiful Star and Behold the Lamb. I bake a lot of cookies. We read our Advent book. Mike and I can now afford to give each other presents, but we have decided that we like it this way, that we would rather make memories at Christmas than exchange presents with each other.

I know why they make it sound like it’s some big conspiracy, because that year we couldn’t give any presents at all, it felt like we were conspiring against the world. We chose to make a responsible financial decision rather than go into debt for Christmas, because we were pretty sure that wasn’t what Christmas was about. It felt a little crazy. Since then, though, it’s been so much easier. It doesn’t feel like a conspiracy at all. It feels like opening up even more to what Christmas is all about. We do still exchange presents with a handful of people, and I love exchanging presents with them. So I am not opposed to presents by any means. In fact, I love presents. I love picking out special things for special people. I treasure the memories of childhood presents, especially now that my dad is gone. And I treasure the memories of surprising him just as much. I just think it’s important to feel in control of those decisions, rather than feeling as if they control me.

(And, anyway, doesn’t the whole idea of Christmas feel a bit like a conspiracy? Jesus came how? He was born where? Who did you say came to worship him? And you believe all of this is true?

Well . . . yes. I do.)

A few years ago, we attended a church that had gone through some difficult times. As part of the healing process, some people came to analyze the church dynamics and one of the things that I remember that they said is that the church as a whole had a dangerous maverick attitude. I know that “maverick” is kind of a loaded word these days, but hear me out. I think it is dangerous, especially for Christians, to feel as if we have certain things figured out, as if we are doing them better than other people. It’s tempting to join some kind of “conspiracy” and feel as if your Christmas is better than other people’s Christmases. But the truth is, there’s nothing about the Christmas message that makes me think I should be comparing my Christmas experience to anyone else’s. Celebrating Christmas – that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us – in the way that is important to your family is the only “better” that I know of.

So let me encourage you that if you are thinking about spending less, giving more of your time, donating to charity, that you should do those things. In my experience, they work. But you don’t have to do it because you think you ought to join some movement or because it’s mavericky (or because some random girl on the internet said it was a good idea). Just as my old church was given the message that we needed to grow past that idea that we were doing church in some radical new way, I think we (American) Christians (and I absolutely include myself in this) need to move past the idea that there is some radical new way to experience Christmas. The message of Christmas, of incarnation, is radical enough.

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