What You REALLY Want for Christmas
Most of us have attended parties where we are asked to bring ‘white-elephant’ gifts to exchange. I once received someone’s Dust-buster long beyond its ability to bust dust. Such gifts are expected when it’s a ‘white elephant’ party. What we are rarely prepared for is the reception of such an item when we expect worth-while gifts. One of my friends years ago received a mailbox from her in-laws for Christmas. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! It was a gift she didn’t really want. In the end she felt like the object of a bad joke.
If you asked the average Christian what they want for Christmas, they would likely list one or two purchasable items they’ve spotted recently in a store or catalog or on a website. Most of us, since we were very small, have been programmed by our culture to think of Christmas gifts in the material sense. That’s not necessarily bad. Many gifts can enhance our lives in positive ways. Generosity is surely a high biblical priority, and oftentimes we gain more pleasure (and blessing according to Acts 20:35) by giving than receiving.
Still, I’ve been thinking lately about Christmas and presents and what we really want. I don’t mean those gifts we really hope to find under the tree Christmas morning. No, I mean what we really want out of life each December—in fact each month of the year every year. What we most want is God-centered rest. What most of us seem to receive each December seems more akin to a white elephant gift.
The more I study Scripture and analyze my own life and the culture around us, I realize how far afield we’ve gone in an effort to gain what we think we want. The result for most of us, if we’re honest, is a consumer-oriented materialism. I’m not merely talking about someone with an obviously sinful lust for accumulating products. I’m talking about a cultural mindset about living life which subconsciously pervades many of our lives often without us realizing it. The core values of this mind-set are production, possession and experience. Production involves finding one’s value in work accomplished, whether it’s at the office or in the garden. Possession involves finding one’s value in gaining more things, whether it’s through a Brookstone catalog or Saturday garage sale. Experience involves finding one’s value in participating in activities, whether it’s our kids’ soccer games, my church’s Christmas program or the hottest homeschool conference. None of these things is bad in and of itself, but when any or all of them become the underlying force giving value to one’s life they become idols which need to be confronted and demolished.
Perhaps no time is a better than December to confront our tendencies to replace the biblical value of resting in Christ (which is the highest value according to Hebrews 3-4 & Matthew 11:25ff.) with the above cultural false values, for now more than ever we feel the external pull from all sectors of our culture to exalt the importance of production, possession and experience.
December can be a good time to put on parties and host gatherings in your home. It can be a good time to write a ‘Christmas letter’ and send it out to scores of people you haven’t seen in years. It can be a good time to bake 1,000 Christmas cookies and decorate your house with 1,000,000 lights and a tree (now where did we store those ornaments?). But, according to God, it is a better time to do none of those things, sit quietly and reflect on Christ’s Incarnation.
December can be a good time to buy the perfect gift for your dad or sweetheart or daughter. It can be a good time to buy more silver garlands and poinsettias and a Christmas dress. It can be a good time to spend hours wrapping gifts for your closest friends at church, excited about the prospect of their smiles when they receive them. But, it may please the Lord even more to buy none of those things for yourself and friends whose homes are already more than full of stuff and give a gift of compassion to help a needy church in the Sudan or Indonesia—or buy nothing for anyone and worship the Lord by committing to get out of credit card debt.
December can be a good time to go Christmas caroling with your friends from church or school or Scout troop. It can be a good time to go see The Nutcracker with your family in the afternoon and The Singing Christmas Tree at night. It can be a good time to volunteer at a soup kitchen or go skiing in Montana or ice skating at a park. But, the Lord may find even greater pleasure in my efforts to say ‘no’ to all of those things so I can stay home with my family and contemplate the Christmas Story in Luke chapter two around our dining room table after an unrushed meal.
Thus says the LORD, ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’ Jeremiah 6:16 So said our God 2,600 years ago to a culture addicted to God plus a thousand other things. What things? Production, possession and experience. This December the Lord has something better to give us: rest in Himself. Perhaps it’s time to say ‘no’ to some, most or even all of the cultural expectations which only weigh you down and exhaust you during this precious time of the year. Your distant friends will survive without a Christmas letter. Your relatives will somehow get buy without a gift. Your family will somehow make do without a tree. You will not be shunned by your friends at church if you choose to skip the Christmas program or caroling. The Lord wants to give you a gift called rest. Will you receive it? Or are your hands too full of other things?