Christmas is fast approaching and, not surprisingly, my kids are looking forward to seeing what’s under the tree. The girls, at least, are still young enough that they are waiting with bated breath to learn what treasures they’ll be receiving. I love this. I enjoy their anticipation and am excited to experience their joy as they unwrap what Aileen and I have bought for them. It promises to be a good morning.
At the same time, I think we all feel a little bit of tension between the dual purposes of Christmas—the giving of gifts and the birth of the Savior. It is this time of year when we encounter all kinds of articles about the real gift of Christmas and when we are warned about spending too much money or buying gifts that are too lavish. We need to keep Christ in Christmas and not succumb to materialism, right? We need to ensure that we don’t look forward too much to unwrapping new toys, new clothes, new books. The implicit messaging is that Christmas is a kind of either/or proposition in which we can either emphasize Jesus or emphasize gifts. But one always threatens to displace the other.
I disagree with this. I don’t think there has to be any tension at all between Jesus and gifts, between a Christmas celebrating the gift of Jesus and a Christmas celebrating the gift of gifts. Both are good. And if both are good, there is no necessary competition between them. I don’t think we gain anything as Christians when we continually speak of this tension or when we load people with guilt who are excited to find out what’s under the tree.
Jesus isn’t threatened by Christmas gifts. He doesn’t get better when we diminish or downplay them, either by eschewing them altogether or by contenting ourselves with gifts that are frugal, that cost us nearly nothing and really aren’t that good. We don’t threaten the wonder of the incarnation when we give nice gifts to the ones we love and when we look forward to receiving them. We don’t need to spiritualize these gifts by assuring ourselves that Jesus is the greatest gift of all. We can just enjoy them on their own terms, we can enjoy them as one of God’s innumerable blessings to us. I’m convinced God is thrilled when we give good gifts, when we receive good gifts, when we enjoy good gifts. He’s a loving Father and what loving father doesn’t take joy in the joy of his children?
Christmas falls on a Sunday this year and I think this gives us an especially good opportunity to see how all of Christmas integrates with our faith, with the Christian life. In the Challies home we will undoubtedly get up early, woken by an excited little girl. We’ll head downstairs and the kids will pull the trinkets out of their stockings. Then we will exchange gifts—nice gifts, even (though, of course, we shop smart and keep things within a reasonable budget). We will eat a special breakfast together. Then we will go to church and worship Jesus, celebrating the marvel of God made man. After it all we will return home to a feast. We will do it all, every bit of it, to the glory of God. We will do it all as one great, day-long event that unashamedly enjoys all of God’s gifts.