Stampedes. Fist fights. Pepper Spray.
Is it a political coup? An Occupy Wall Street riot? The running of the bulls in Pamplona?
No ... it's Christmas shopping 2011.
One would think after two million years of evolution that human beings would have transcended such nonsense. Sadly our fight or flight genes continue to be driven into a frenzy by the stress of our lengthy holiday shopping lists.
Everyone is included on these ridiculously long lists, from the mailman to our co-workers to our great Aunt Hazelene who we haven't seen in years. Everyone, that is, except one obvious name. Here's a hint: look at the first six letters of the word "CHRISTmas."
I am afraid the baby Jesus gets the short end of the stick during the holidays. Given it is his birthday, don't you think he should be on the list?
Which leads to the question: WHAT to get him? An Ipod shuffle? The Twilight Saga Collector's Edition? An Xbox with Batman: Arkham City? We could also copy the wise men and snag some gold and good smelling frankincense, which by today's terms would mean a gold pinky ring and cologne by Usher.
While these are all nice gift ideas, honestly, it's the baby Jesus. We can do better than that.
So what is the ultimate present to give the baby Jesus? And notice I said GIVE him, not buy him. The best gifts are ones that have nothing to do with what money can buy.
To date, the best gift guide I have found is contained in the book of Micah: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God." How about putting acts of justice, kindness and humility on your list? These are things that the baby Jesus would love way more than an Xbox.
How about the gift of "doing justice"? And keep in mind, the scripture says "do justice." This is not a John Lennon approach like imagine justice. This is about taking action.
My friend and filmmaker Dan Karslake is working on a new movie entitled "Every Three Seconds." (http://everythreeseconds.net/ ) Tragically every three seconds someone dies of hunger and poverty. Yet the greatest tragedy is that today, right now, we have the means to stop it.
The film highlights everyday people who are in fact trying to stop it. And keep in mind, these are not people who started out saying, "I will change the world." These are just folks like you and me who simply stepped up to the opportunities presented and did something. Kind of like the great words from Rosa Parks: "All I was trying to do is get home from work."
What are some "justice" gift ideas? Take advantage of the opportunities right in front of you and do something about those in need. The easiest way? Volunteer. One hour out of your week won't tick up your stress levels that much. In fact, focusing on others might well reduce them. For a list of suggestions, check out http://www.nationalserviceresources.org/volunteer-recruitment-websites. A true holiday gift is an act of justice - one human being to another.
Or how about the gift of kindness? This may be harder than we think. A recent Consumer Reports poll showed that of the top holiday stresses, "being nice" ranked in the top ten.
How hard can this be? We're only talking about a few modest acts of kindness. Like the recent media report of the Santa who learned sign language. The story explained that a local school for the deaf was invited to visit, but the children were not told Santa knew sign language. When the first child climbed on his lap, Santa signed, "what would you like for Christmas?" and the child's face just lit up.
"Kindness" gift ideas? Learn sign language would be at the top of the list. But if you don't have time for this, then how about just learn to speak to people; people like those who take the blunt of the holiday stress, like bus drivers, store clerks, and waiters/waitresses. Even a simple question like "how is your day?" or "how are you doing?" shows that someone noticed... someone cares.
If none of these ideas strike you, how about give the baby Jesus the gift of humility. Jesus looked at humility much like the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Both believed that true energy or power came not from raising ourselves up, but from lowering ourselves in service. Lao Tzu used water to explain it:
The rivers and seas lead the hundred streams, because they are skillful at staying low.
These streams flow willingly into the rivers and seas not because the rivers and seas hold themselves up, but because they lower themselves in the land, so that the water might naturally flow to them.
"Humility" gift ideas? I defer to Therese Borchard who writes a wonderful blog entitled "Beyond Blue." One of her recent posts was "Six ways to deal with difficult family members during the holidays." (http://tinyurl.com/79p27xu ) She begins with words by George Burns: "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city."
She then goes on to suggest several ideas for dealing with family stress, such as: Don't take everything personally, wait before you speak, and my personal fav: when in doubt carry a blankie, like a favorite photo or token to give you an extra shot of strength.
Never underestimate the power of a little humility.
The bottom line? Put the baby Jesus on your Christmas list. Come on - it's the easiest gift on your list. You don't have to risk the stampedes or fist fights or pepper spray, as this is about giving the gift of yourself. It's like 1 Timothy 4:14 says: "neglect not the gift that is within thee."
We have all been given unique gifts - gifts that make the best and only true holiday gifts. Reach deep within; find what you have to give; quietly cultivate your sense of justice, kindness and humility ... and put the baby Jesus on your list.
This sermon was given at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC. http://www.mabcnyc.org/mabc-audio.htm