Originally published on thegospelcoalition.org
There is a sliver of me that doesn’t want to give any gifts this Christmas—at least not to my family. It’s not because I don’t think they deserve gifts, or that they’ve been “bad” in some way. I have a wonderful family. And I love giving them presents.
It’s just that part of me wishes Christmas was a bit different than what it’s turned out to be.
When my kids were little, I was determined to withstand the culture’s attempt to turn my little Christian sponges into stuffmongers during the holidays. But stuffmongerism is deeply ingrained in all of us. So, year after year, list in hand, I trekked from store to store in search of the elusive Magazord or perfect baby doll, or wrestled with the desire to buy authentic Uggs instead of the Payless brand.
It’s agonizing, this desire to please through Christmas gifts. The joy of giving is alive and well, but there’s a pall that descends that feels like guilt, or anxiety, or guilty anxiety. Did I buy the right color, size, brand, version, style, capacity? Did I buy enough? My mind spins with the seemingly endless ways to please the people around me.
Then, once I’m almost sure I’ve fulfilled all the specifications, and the imagined Christmas Day conversations are gushing with appreciative delight, my husband's maddeningly practical still small voice interrupts my bliss: “How much did we spend this year?” The guilty anxiety returns, and the pall descends once more.
I’m fairly certain my guilt-ridden inner dialogue wasn’t the point of that starry night in Bethlehem so long ago. Yet here I am, immersed in the American Christmas industrial complex. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Alas, that little sliver of me will not win out. I’ll shop. I’ll buy gifts. I’ll wrestle with desire and practicality. And, in the end, I’ll delight in giving on Christmas morning.
Why? Because as a Christ follower, I’m God’s image bearer (Gen. 1:27; Col. 3:10). Doesn’t it follow, then, that I’d want to give good gifts to my children (Matt. 7:11)? Of course, we have to fight against excess, materialism, and greed—especially this time of year. Yet the answer to the struggle isn’t to stop giving altogether. My love of giving reflects our God, who loves to give good gifts. I won’t do so perfectly, but giving to others is an inherently good thing.
“Give, and it will be given to you,” Jesus told his followers. “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Luke 6:38). Likewise, the apostle John cries, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Our joy in giving to others reflects, however dim, the Father’s delight in giving to us. And his generosity to us is more than we can fathom.
Jesus Christ left the splendor and majesty of heaven for my sake. Though I’m flawed in every way, and deserving of much worse than a lump of coal in my stocking, he chose to give me grace—freely, abundantly, eternally.
So as I struggle with these competing desires at Christmas, one thing will hold. I will remember, even at the mall or while clicking “Add to Cart,” that the reason for all of this temporary glitz, marketing, and spoilage is that God loves me with an eternal extravagance—not because I’ve conquered stuffmongerism or because I’ve managed to pull off the perfect Christmas. His love for me is simply a gift, purchased through his perfect sacrifice.
That tiny baby would one day wear a crown of thorns so that we could one day wear a crown of grace. He is the true gift. May we await his return with the excitement and anticipation of a child on Christmas morning.