I have some suggestions for Christmas!
But first a little biblical theology….
Israel enjoyed their Spring and Fall harvests with week-long celebrations. In the Spring, seven weeks after Passover, Israel celebrated the Spring harvest with the “Festival of Harvest/Weeks” (Pentecost). In the Fall, Israel celebrated the Fall harvest with the “Festival of Booths/Tabernacles.”
These festivals did double-duty. Not only did they celebrated the Spring and Fall harvests, they were also tied to God’s redemptive acts within Israel’s history. Just as the Passover remembered the Exodus, so the Pentecost remembered the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and the Feast of Tabernacles remembered the forty-year wilderness pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
The festivals, then, gave thanks not only for God’s present blessings in the harvest but also identified the present people of God with their ancestors. Through the festivals, Israel relived its history and received God’s gracious harvest gifts.
Embedded in Israel’s calendar, these annual events regulated Israel’s communal life. They provided a rhythm of identity, memory, and thanksgiving for Israel’s life with God.
In addition, they also provided a rhythm of generosity.
When Israel gathered to celebrate the harvest festivals, they were warned to “not appear before the Lord empty-handed.” They were to “give as they are able, according the the blessing of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).
Israel not only enjoyed its harvest, but it shared its harvest.
More specifically, they shared their harvest with “the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow” (Deuteronomy 16:11, 14).
This three-fold concern–the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow–is a recurring emphasis in Deuteronomy (10:18; 14:29; 24:17, 19; 26:12-13; 27:19) as well as within the rest of the Hebrew Bible (Jeremiah 7:6; 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5; Psalm 994:6; 146:9).
In particular, the call to bless and protect the “resident alien” within Israel receives special emphasis. The verb or nouns forms for this term occur 175 times in the Hebrew Bible. Variously translated as “sojourner,” “resident alien,” “foreigner,” or “stranger,” it describes a person who is not native to the land in which they live. Israel, for example, was an alien in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 23:7), and Israel should love aliens because they were aliens in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19).
When Israel harvested its crops and celebrated God’s blessings, God expected they would share their blessings with the “aliens” among them. This is a rhythmic and ritualized generosity. Such ritual patterns not only symbolize Israel’s values, they also shape hearts and cultivate those values in the community.
Christmas has become that kind of ritual for Christians. It is a season in which we share with others. While as a cultural phenomenon the season is too often focused on consumerism and self-absorbed as well as extravagant family celebrations, it should be a time when families celebrate their lives together and share with each other while they also share with others.
Israel’s festivals were not self-focused or self-interested. They enjoyed God’s blessings as families, but they also included included the poor, the widow, and the orphan. And, more to the point of recent days, they included the stranger, the alien, the foreigner, or immigrant.
So, here are my Christmas suggestions.
First, when we budget our Christmas spending, let us spend a significant percentage on people outside of our family and friends. My family budgets 1/3 of our Christmas spending on “Christmas giving.”
Second, when we share our Christmas giving with others, share with the immigrants in your community! Just as Israel, include the immigrants in your festive generosity.
Third, identify immigrants in your world who work on the margins of your life–such as facilities workers, yard workers, etc.–and give them a Christmas gift.
Fourth, practice this as a communal (church) or family ritual so that its values are cultivated in your community or family as a regular, habitual, and annual festival analogous to Israel’s harvest festivals.
When God called Israel into this kind of ritualized, communal, and habitual practice, it seems to me God understood the practical effect this would have on their lives, characters, and communal life. It not only teaches us something but forms us into a particular kind of people.
That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.