I have a confession to make. I have really mixed feelings about Christmas.
To give you a setting, I’m writing this post the week before. All my kids are in town. (Yeah!) Our business has had a good year, for which we are grateful. Our granddaughter is officially adopted. We are reasonably healthy and happy. But I am having my annual inner dialogue about Christmas.
Like carols. People rave how great they are, but I’m not buying it. My husband will ask why, and I have no logical reasons. Those old, traditional hymns need translation into modern English for me to understand. I learned them all as a child, but choose not to sing them now.
So it’s hard to get through church services during advent, and a relief when it’s done. For me, traditional music puts a real damper on my enthusiasm for Christmas.
I turn off the old songs and listen to what my heart is trying to tell me.
I keep coming back to the gifts. Do you get what you ask for? There’s a running thing in our house. For any gift occasion, if my kids ask what I want, I’ll say, “Obedient children.” I’ll let you imagine if I get that. (I DO keep asking.)
As a child I didn’t get many gifts, but enough to know I was loved. Our church collected gifts for us preacher’s kids, and gave Mom and Dad money. We’d have guests at dinner that added to the festivities, and gifts for each other bought with money we’d saved throughout the year.
As adults, us siblings exchanged presents for many years until we all had kids and were more focused on THEIR gifts. In our home my husband and I tried limiting gifts to avoid feelings of entitlement in our kids in the early years, but it didn’t make any of us more pious.
Bottom line, I love having a room full of kids opening piles of gifts we’ve picked out for each other.
There. I’ve said it. For me, Christmas is about the gifts.
Which probably sounds really weird for a very grateful follower of Jesus Christ.
I love reading the historical truth of the circumstances of his birth, letting the details hit me fresh. And I’m thankful for Jesus’ very real presence in my life. I just can’t reconcile why the religious world in which I’ve always operated places so much importance on Christmas, and at the same time leaves me feeling vaguely pagan for enjoying the gift-giving so much.
I love it when someone knows me so well, inside and out, that they think of and find or create a something that is so perfect for me, the me they “get”, that I am ecstatic and moved and blubbering by the time I get it unwrapped and let the wonder of them finding such a perfect-for-me gift, wrap around me like a long, warm hug.
It’s not the “things” as much as the love I’m longing for.
And I love being the one who can occasionally think up that perfect gift for someone else. I will admit I am not the best at this, because I absolutely hate shopping, but I have good intentions.
Having grown up in a family where we were poor but our needs were met, by parents who didn’t spend foolishly on frivolous things because they’d grown up with next to nothing, I have a hard time spending money on anything. Ask my kids. If it’s not a staple food it better be on sale. If we need something for the house, same thing applies. I rarely buy clothes or shoes or “toys” for myself, and it doesn’t occur to me to get them for my kids. So I’m really bad at knowing if they have enough, and they often wait until they are low on inventory before they let me know.
Except at Christmas. That’s when I splurge and have to stop myself from going into debt to buy all the things I’d like to get them. It’s like I give myself permission to let my heart lead, and make my natural thriftiness be quiet for a few weeks, while I try to figure out what makes a good gift.
It isn’t always this way. There are years when money is tight, we’re going through tough times, when deaths tone everything down. Still there are gifts.
Matthew 7:11 (NIV)
11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
When I think of my own kids, I have no desire to give them things that would harm them. I often think of things I wish they would appreciate, because they could benefit from them, but they aren’t ready yet, so I wait. And if the day ever came when they approached me, asking for that perfect-for-them gift I’ve always wanted to give them, I would be ecstatic.
The decorations, parties, tv specials and Hallmark movies, plays and concerts and yes, even the Christmas carols. I don’t see anything necessary in any of it.
Except the gifts.
I’m not saying it’s all about the gifts. But it’s at least partly about the gifts. And the giving.
We, in the churches, often talk about Jesus being the real gift of Christmas. No argument there. Jesus, God in the body of a baby boy who grew to be a man who lived a radically different life and died an eternity-opening death that made it possible for us to receive the freely given gift of eternal life.
It will take to my last breath and beyond to understand the starting point for my faith.
So then to add that “then how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” part is even harder to grasp.
You sacrifice your Son for the sin of the world, because I choose to disobey and turn away from you, and yet you say that if I come into relationship with you as Father, and me your obedient child, you will give me good gifts beyond forgiveness, salvation, being forever with you?
Am I brave enough to ask for those gifts?
Because right there is the only one who knows me. I have spent my Christmases wishing someone would “get” me enough to give me a perfect-for-me gift, and all along God has an unlimited number of them ready. Waiting for me to ask him for the gifts he has picked out just for me. Seeking to know him through the gifts. Knocking on the door and being welcomed in to open those gifts and laugh and cry and feel completely loved.
And even I, who is undeniably evil compared to God, hope that I’ve been able to give a few good gifts this year.