–by Susan Sparks

Fist fights. Pushing and shoving.

Is it a political coup? A protest march? A Bette Midler concert?

No. It’s Christmas shopping. One would think that after 2 million years of evolution, human beings would have transcended such nonsense. Sadly, our lengthy holiday shopping lists continue to drive our fight-or-flight genes into a stress-fueled frenzy.

Included on these ridiculously long lists we find everyone from the paper carrier to coworkers to Great Aunt Else, whom we haven’t seen in years. Everyone, that is, except the most obvious person. Here’s a hint: Look at the first six letters of the word “CHRISTmas.” I’m afraid that the baby Jesus gets the short end of the stick, but given that we’re celebrating his birthday, he should be the first person on the list!

What is the ultimate present to give the baby Jesus? And notice that I said give him, not buy him. The best gifts have nothing to do with what money can buy. And the best gift guide I’ve found is contained in the book of Micah: “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). So how about putting acts of justice, kindness and humility on our lists? These are things the baby Jesus would love way more than an Xbox or Nintendo Switch.

Let’s start with the gift of kindness. This one may be harder than we think. One Consumer Reports poll ranks “having to be nice” in the top ten of holiday stresses. Seriously? We’re not talking about winning the Nobel Peace Prize here, just a few modest acts of kindness.

Running short on “kindness” gift ideas? Consider the story of the Santa who learned sign language. Students from a local school for the deaf took a field trip to visit him. However, they were not told that Santa knew sign language. When the first child climbed on his lap and saw him sign, “What would you like for Christmas?” the child’s face lit up.

While learning sign language would be at the top of a kindness gift list, you could also just learn to speak to those who bear the brunt of holiday stress. For bus drivers, store clerks, waiters/waitresses, and others working similar jobs, hearing you ask a simple question like, “How has your day been?” or “How are you doing?” shows that someone notices and cares.

The Rev. Susan Sparks is a trial lawyer turned preacher, stand-up comedian, author and speaker at the 2014 Women of the ELCA Triennial. Learn more and read her blog at: SusanSparks.com.

This article is excerpted from the December 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full article or more like it, subscribe to Gather.