Christmas is such a riot of frenzied planning, organizing, and agonizing! And for all it’s craziness it really is a very special event for almost everyone. Even those of other faiths tend to get swept along in it’s vortex. Families re-unite, romances are affirmed, kids are celebrated, even grumpy old bosses soften up a little at Christmastime. And they say suicide rates increase too. It’s like Christmas puts us all under an magnifying glass – the happy get happier, the lonely get lonelier, the calm get calmer, the nervous get nervouser, and so on. And yet none of us would miss it for the world! It has a magical effect on people. I don’t think it’s because of a magical Christmas spirit, but it might have something to do with giving.
So here’s my theory: one of the most universal and profound needs in human beings is their craving for approval/significance – to be truly loved and appreciated just for being you. In most cultures that celebrate Christmas, the giving of gifts is always a central part. And no matter how many movies Hollywood makes about it, it’s probably not the act of giving that adds the sparkle. It’s GETTING gifts that makes Christmas special! Now before you write me off as some left-wing proponent of selfishness, let me explain. When we are given a gift – not a paycheck or a reward, but a gift – it’s only because somebody cares about us. For a child to be gift-bombed on Christmas morning until there is hardly any room left to put them, is like a tsunami of I-love-you’s! Yes, even through all the plastic and commercialism, even through our Humbugism and fragile expectations – it still manages to touch that part of us that so desperately needs to be touched. Most of us are so hungry for recognition and affection that Christmas has long since stamped our self-image with incontrovertable proof that we are good enough to be loved.
I’m not saying that today’s crass and secular observance of Christmas is thereby sanctified and sacredized – but it is certainly similar to the Gospel. Perhaps that’s why a society that has no time for the Saviour still cherishes Christmas. At least it makes them feel loved, if only for season. A clutch of freshly received gifts on Christmas morning is much more tangible than a story about a man who came, died, and rose again a long time ago. Especially when the gifts are right there in front of you and Christ is nowhere to be seen.
The lesson in all of this for those of us who seek to spread the Gospel and build happy churches, is that Jesus really is a gift to us. He isn’t a religion, a bunch of rules, a holy finger shook in our faces – he is a gift. As a teenager I was once given an old pocket watch of my grandfather’s. At the time I was disappointed, hoping for something cooler and more useful in getting dates. It was a precious and valuable gift, but I just couldn’t appreciate it then. Over the years I realized that it was way more valuable than all the toys that were soon forgotten, lost, or broken. God’s gift is a little like that. We still tend to run right past the humble stable in Bethlehem to get to the shopping mall with all it’s glitter. Not perhaps because we are so eager to give, but because giving to others is the price we are willing to pay to also become receivers and for that brief few days over Christmas – feel like maybe we are worth loving after all. If only we could slow down long enough to see God’s unspeakable gift – one that outshines and outlasts all others.
The more desperate we are for some affirmation in life, the more desperate the expectations we tend to hang on Christmas. No wonder it can be like an emotional roller-coaster for so many. Desperately hoping for a believable message, no matter how small, that they are loved. We settle for a mass produced toy from half-hearted giver, when the most indescrible gift of love that could ever be imagined waits under our tree – a love that knows no season, no limits, and no end. And it has your name on it.