For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
I sit before our Christmas tree, sparkling with lights and adorned with bright and shiny packages, waiting for my kids to wake up this Christmas morning. And I’m stressed out.
I worry that instead of joy and love my children will unwrap perceptions of inequity or lack of consideration or lack of effort. Gift giving is not my love language; in fact, I’m barely fluent. So with an occasional exception the experience of shopping for people, even those I love most, creates more feelings of insecurity and frustration than excitement.
Even as I wait I know that the reality behind the wrapping is less that perfect. The one gift I actually ordered early, and was most excited to give, didn’t arrive; so an empty box with a photo serves as a disappointing placeholder. And while we spent the same per-child, one has a dozen gifts to unwrap while another has just two. I know they are now teens and young adults, yet my desire to keep Christmas magical fuels guilt about these shortcomings and others.
I would like to believe I am a Christian who has not sold out to the commercialism of Christmas; in fact, I do a great job living in denial for about 350 days a year. And then in the two weeks before Christmas I succumb, driven by love-drenched guilt, and rush around like every other American, trying to express my love for my children by miraculously fulfilling some unfulfilled wish or desire.
And yet I know it’s a mirage not a Christmas miracle that they are most likely to experience; first, because I already work really hard all year round to help meet their real needs; and second, because in my heart I know that the things of this world never can satisfy the longings of our hearts.
Other than the brown Huffy bicycle I received for Christmas when I was 10 (which was stolen less than a year later), I would struggle to recall any other gifts I received as a child. The things I remember of Christmases past are my grandmother who spent the night in my room just once a year, my brother proclaiming every gift he received to be a “turtle” before he could undo the wrapping, and my mom delaying Christmas until she could swig down at least one cup of coffee. All of my memories are of how I felt being surrounded by the people I love and the simplicity of just being together.
It saddens me as an observer (and a now-confessed reluctant participant) that we celebrate Christmas — God’s daring attempt to rescue us from enslavement to the deceit of this world — by literally buying into these false promises. Media cover God’s great love for us not with headlines of love exchanged, peace spread or hearts filled, but instead with stories of retail spending thresholds met, people fighting over the year’s hottest toy and the brokenhearted among us whose isolation is magnified during this sacred holiday. And yet:
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2: 15-20
I don’t have a bow to tie on this end of this post, but I will be looking for a way to turn this Christmas inside out.