Christmas is such a riot of frenzied planning, organizing, and agonizing! But for all it’s craziness, it really is a very special time 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. Perhaps it’s all because of a magical Christmas spirit, but I suspect it really has something to do with giving.
So here’s my theory: one of the most universal and profound needs in every human being 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 Hallmark makes about it, it’s probably not the act of giving that adds the sparkle. It’s the GETTING of gifts that makes Christmas special! Now before you write me off as some misguided proponent of selfishness, let me explain. When we are given a gift – not a paycheck or somesuch 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, despite our humbugism and fragile expectations – Christmas 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. And that's why we love Christmas.
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. I’m not saying that today’s crass and secular observance of Christmas is thereby sanctified and sacredized – but it is certainly has some parallels to the Gospel. A clutch of freshly received gifts on Christmas morning is much more tangible proof of our 'lovability' 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 wonderful truth in all of this, is that Jesus really is a gift to us. He isn’t a religion, a bunch of rules, or a holy finger waggled 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 or more fun. It was a precious and valuable gift, but I just couldn’t appreciate it at the time. As the years slipped by I gradually realized that it was a lot more valuable than all the toys that were so soon lost, broken, and forgotten. 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 those brief few days over Christmas – feel like maybe we are someone worth loving after all. If only we could slow down long enough to recognize God’s amazing 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 we are loved. Too often we settle for a mass produced gift from half-hearted giver, when the most indescrible gift of love that could ever be imagined - a love that knows no season, no limits, and no end - awaits us under the tree. And look! It has your name on it.