Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Christmas Gifts

If we want to recapture Christmas, we have to first understand how we lost it. And one of the ways that we've lost it is by buying into some of the lies that our culture tells us about this holy day. 

For example, you've probably heard that Christmas is not about receiving, but giving. "It's not what you get; it's what you give." 

This is, of course, a good general principle to live by, most of the time. It is a buffer against our own selfishness and self-centeredness, a reminder that when we give, we have the opportunity to bless tremendously someone else. It keeps us humble, turns our eyes outward, and opens our hands. 

But at Christmas, it's a bald-faced lie, plain and simple. Christmas is not at all about what you give, but what you've received - the Son of God, the Lord Himself, clothed in flesh, wrapped in cloth, lying in a manger. The Light crying out in the dark of night. Life coming boldly into death. 

Because in case you've lost it in all the hubbub, Christmas...is about Christ. 

That's precisely what our culture has tried to get us to forget. They have tried to tell us that it's all about the gifts, about the gifts that we're giving. The wise men, they say, brought gifts, so be wise men; bring gifts. People will love you if you bring good gifts.

I'm pretty sure Jesus loved the wise men even if they'd come empty-handed, for their journey was not about delivering their precious gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their emphasis was not on gift giving. There was nothing urging them, frantically telling them how important it was for them to make sure that the baby Jesus got a bunch of spices and scents and wealth that He didn't even need.

They set out for Bethlehem because their hearts were drawn to see what they had been given. They wanted to see the miracle that was done that night for them.

It's the same with the shepherds. They didn't even have gifts, but they went anyway to see what they had received on that starlit night. God beckoned them to. He said, "Come, see what I have given you."

And now, we tell our families and friends, "Come, see what I have given you." Because we have made this Christmas season all about giving, an act that, as cited yesterday, nearly 70% of us would forego if we could get each other to agree to it. 

That's not - hear me - that's not because we don't love each other or because we don't like giving good gifts. It's because obligatory gift-giving in this particular holiday season feels empty. It feels like a burden, like a bother. It feels like we're missing something important about Christmas. And we are. 

We're missing what we have received. 

Recognizing the gift of Christ, gathering around the baby in the manger, does not make us selfish or self-centered the way that we're told it might if we focused on getting rather than giving. Not at all. Properly recognizing Christ in Christmas makes us more generous, for this is the one gift we have been given that turns us outward. It is the one gift that raises our heads, that lifts our eyes, that opens our hands and positions us to give. Not to re-gift, but to give generously and to share what we have been given.

So if we want to recapture Christmas, we have to first discover how we've lost it. And one of the ways that we've lost it is by losing sight of the Christmas gift - the one we have received, by thinking that this season is all about what we give instead of what we've been given - the most precious gift of all. 

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