Okay, here’s the thing: I don’t quite understand why you are buying Christmas presents. I mean, that is, if you are a Christian who celebrates Advent. In other words, if you spend four weeks preparing for the coming of Christ by fasting, repenting, telling ancient stories, refusing to sing songs with the word Hallelujah in them, or otherwise acknowledging that all is not well in this world and that we are deep need of a savior, then I don’t get why you are buying a bunch of plastic junk from China to give away on Christmas day.
Did that sound judgmental? I didn’t mean it too. Honestly. It’s just that I don’t understand why we spend a month longing for Jesus and then attempt to sate that desire with video games, gadgets, books, gift cards, clothes, and perfume.
I have very thoughtful Christian friends who explain why they give gifts on Christmas, and they make thoughtful arguments that make some sense to me. For example, “These gifts are reminders of God’s gift to us in Jesus.” But does anyone actually experience their gifts that way?
Still, we have always told our kids that on their birthdays we celebrate them extravagantly, so on Jesus’ birthday we should celebrate him extravagantly. We sing, and go to church, and unfurl the final panel in our Advent story, and light the Christ candle, and buy and make gifts for the homeless in our neighborhood, refugee babies around the world, and working families in developing countries around the world.
Last year, though, when Nafisa came to live with us, we decided to buy all three of the kids a gift. We explained that Nafisa had done so much to fit in with our family, and we wanted to do something to fit in with her family of origin. The kids all loved it, but it felt flat to me. It seemed, actually, to mock all that we experienced during Advent.
I live in, and participate all too fully in, a culture that wants to distort and then commodify Truth and Beauty. My soul is dimmed by that distortion and my accompanying lust for stuff; and much of the year I train my children to follow me in this soul-crushing lifestyle. Do I really want to cap off this one season of longing and hope by saying, “Yes! The answer is here. Under the tree. In a box. What we’ve been waiting for is here.”
The children in my Sunday School class are going to sing Come Thou Long Expect Jesus for the church this week. As I play it over and over with the boys, I’ve been asking myself which aspects of our family life reflect the truth of this prayer, and which deny it. Even without the presents, it’s easy to get lost this time of year. What about you? What are you longing for this year?
- Come thou long expected Jesus.
- Born to set Thy people free.
- From our fears and sins release us.
- Let us find our rest in Thee
- Israel’s strength and consolation
- Hope of all the earth Thou art
- Dear desire of every nation
- Joy of every longing heart