Today, on the British calendar, is Boxing Day. No it’s not about hitting people while wearing gloves and confined to a ring. It’s about boxing up some of the Christmas stuff and giving it to the less fortunate. In his discussion of Jesus’ saying ‘I’ve come that you might have life, and have it abundantly’ Wendell Berry warns us that Jesus is not advocating avarice. “In an age of materialist science, economics,art, and politics, we ought not to be much shocked by the appearance of materialist religion. We know we don’t have to look far to find people who equate more abundant life with a bigger car, a bigger house, a bigger bank account, and a bigger church. They are wrong of course. If Jesus meant only that we should have more possessions or even more ‘life expectancy’ then John 10.10 is no more remarkable than an advertisement for any commodity whatever. Abundance in this verse cannot refer to an abundance of material possessions, for life does not require a material abundance; it requires only material sufficiency….life itself is already an abundance.” (p. 61). So much for the ‘the health and the wealth Gospel’.
Which bring us back full circle to Boxing Day. Christmas is not supposed to be about ‘getting’ or material abundance. It’s supposed to be about giving, even self-sacrificial giving, and learning to live with a theology of ‘enough’, of sufficiency.It is one of the great ironies of modern readings of the Bible that Phil. 4.13 has been mistakenly translated to read “I can do all things in him who strengthens me”, the so-called superman verse. But even a brief reading of the context makes clear that there is something very wrong with this translation. Paul has just enunciated the principle of contentment with whatever one has– living with, and living without. Godliness with contentment is great gain, “for I have learned in whatever circumstances to be content.” A better translation that suits a context where Paul is talking about contentment regardless of ones circumstances, whether one has an abundance or precious little, is as follows ‘I am able to endure all things in Him who strengthens me.”
A person who lives with a little detachment from material things, and is not defined by or confined by his possessions, is certainly better able to share, to give away things to those in need. Maybe today it would be good to wrap up some of your gifts and head down to the Salvation Army. It might be good to stay for a while and help serve a meal to the needy. And then think again of a deity who was born in rustic circumstances and laid in a box, a manger. In that box was the gift which keeps on giving. And nothing else you got at Christmas should necessarily be seen as a ‘keeper’.