"What do you want for Christmas?" That's what Deanne asks me every year.
You may have been asked that by somebody recently who has you on their giving list. You may have asked it of somebody on your giving list. We ask it of kids. We ask it to make idle conversation with adults, even. It's that time of year.
"What do you want for Christmas?"
Meanwhile, little kids write their letters to Santa, explaining what their hearts are set on. Even not-so-little kids share their Want Lists with others. My daughter posts her Want List on her LiveJournal. I guess it's like a bridal registry or something. Might as well tell people what you want -- besides increasing the odds you might get something like that, it helps them in shopping for you. But I still don't like the question -- never have liked it, not even when I was a kid.
"What do you want for Christmas?"
I dunno, am I the only curmudgeon here who doesn't like to make want lists or find out what others want to make my shopping easier? Please note: it's not the commericalism of it all; it's not even the cost. I just have never felt comfortable answering -- or asking -- that question. So, after mumbling some sort of response to Deanne, I set out to ask myself WHY that question made me so uncomfortable. What DID I want for Christmas, anyway?
Herewith, then, for what it's worth, are my three quick guidelines about gift giving; by the way, you are free to ignore them, if you have a system that works better for you -- this is just sort of thinking out loud, along with all of you, about gift giving. Anyway, three quick guidelines about gift giving (and receiving).
Number One: The identity of the gift -- the gift itself-- is less important than the fact of the gift. Think about it: The fact that somebody gives you a gift at all is extraordinary. Why would they do that? They must love you or something. And to be loved is one of the greatest gifts I know of. So it doesn't matter WHAT, precisely, the gift in the box or bag or envelope is -- the name of the gift is LOVE.
That means that I have always been pleased to receive socks and gloves and coffee mugs and ties and what-have-you. The fact that these are the no-brainer, everyday gifts doesn't matter. Now, yeah, when I was a kid, I didn't get so excited about long underwear with a fancy bow on it (which is how my mother padded the number of gifts under the tree for each child, and I'll bet yours did too -- it's a mommy thing), but the fact that there was anything there AT ALL was so unutterably astounding that I couldn't complain.
I didn't even complain when my Mother used to buy me ties that looked as if I was to be spared the effort of spilling soup on them -- because their designs looked like I already had (she was brilliant that way). And even when you get one of those "What in the world . . ." gifts -- you know, the ones that you not only don't know how to use, you're not even sure you're holding it right-side up? -- the fact that it's there at all is a testament to how greatly you are loved. And love is the first, most basic thing that matters. So, I don't like to answer that question, "What do you want for Christmas," because WHAT somebody gives me has always mattered less than the fact that they love me and want to give me something.
Number Two: There are very few things I can say that I really need, and the person asking what I want probably can't give them to me, anyway. At least, this has been true ever since I grew up and started supporting myself; I mean, there are plenty of things I WANT -- some of which I even NEED -- and which I don't have yet. But my kids certainly can't afford to give me any of them. And my wife giving me one of these big-ticket items out of our mutual income seems silly to me; if it were that important, we would have planned and paid for it together -- may even now be planning and paying for it together. But all the other, little things that I occasionally get a hankering for, I can usually buy for myself.
I mean, it's been a LONG TIME since somebody had the power and desire to get me something I could not get for myself, no matter how hard I worked. My parents certainly gave me some significant financial help in getting me educated and on my own. And they helped in other, very important ways back when we were young parents without an extra bag of nickels for -- oh, say, a new bed for one of the kids -- or help with braces -- or even taking us grocery shopping when there was too much month left at the end of the money -- or for other things we really, really needed. And I cannot say how grateful I am for their help back then, but I'm in their shoes now, and that makes me uncomfortable with that question, What do you WANT for Christmas? Because I think of what I still long for, and wonder, can you really give it to me? And if not, should we set ourselves up for failure and disappointment over this? So, I'm reluctant to answer the question when somebody asks it. Let's not go there, I think.
Number Three: What I really LIKE in a present -- any present -- is the revelation in it. For whatever somebody gives you says something about THAT PERSON -- and how that person sees YOU -- and in contemplating the gift that they thought was just right for you, there may be some new revelation about the giver -- or about yourself -- and that's something you can't buy for any money.
So when I'm trying to think up something really, really special for somebody, I try to think of something that he or she wouldn't think of getting for oneself. The surprise of it is one level of the joy in buying, or making, that gift, but it's not just surprise -- it's the FITNESS of that gift that matters. It's like Goldilocks sitting in chair after chair, until she finds one that's JUST RIGHT -- or tasting porridge after porridge, until she finds one that's JUST RIGHT for her. To find the gift that truly fits the one it is given to, which that person would not have thought to buy for oneself, is to reveal that person to himself, and to reveal that you know something of that person's soul. And so the gift says something very special about your relationship, as those who know each other in love.
Back when we were young marrieds with no money, I used to bake goodies for my family, each one a special creation that this particular person would most like. And I remember the time I found a professional artist who did caricatures of my parents from photographs. I have at home a teddy bear dressed in a flight jacket and leather helmet with goggles -- a bomber bear -- which we got my father one year (my father was a veteran of the World War II Army Air Force). And though I have frequently been reduced to searching through stores for anything -- anything -- that would do for so-and-so on my list, there have been other times when I just KNEW what I wanted to give to that person, and I looked for weeks until I found it. And how wonderful it was to see them open THAT package on Christmas morning.
The special gift -- not necessarily the most expensive gift -- the gift that fulfills some longing you didn't even know you had, which reveals something to you about yourself or how much you are loved, stands out and is remembered for years. And few such special gifts, in my experience, are things I would have thought to ask for, or which somebody else asked me for; hence, my reluctance, again, to deal with that question, "What do you want for Christmas?"
But this is supposed to be a sermon about Christ and Christmas and God, not just a rumination over packages tied up with bows and laid under the tree. I hope I may be forgiven for such a long disquisition over stuff you probably didn't really want to know, but these thoughts over that question, "What do you want for Christmas?" caused me to think again about The Gift that God gave us all in that first Christmas.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called,
"Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
God has given each of us a gift. Laying aside for a moment the identity of the gift -- the baby born in Bethlehem way back when -- pause for a moment to consider the FACT of that gift.
God has given YOU this gift -- his own Son. YOU are that important to him. And if you were the only person who had ever lived, or the only person who had ever sinned and needed a Savior, he would have done all that he has done FOR YOU. You are loved that much.
Note, also, that he didn't ask if you WANTED him to love you like this -- or if you thought you DESERVED to be loved like this -- the fact is, HE wanted to love you like this. And Jesus grew up to do and say and suffer and share everything he did and said and suffered and shared -- FOR YOU.
People who say, couldn't God have done it some other way are talking silly: the fact that God has done it AT ALL, is overwhelming, and the heavens rejoice in YOUR being graced with this Gift.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
thou hast broken as on the day of Midian.
God has given us a gift we could never have acquired any other way, not by paying any price we could afford, nor by rendering any service we were capable of. Our heavenly Father -- out of his heavenly riches -- has given us what we could never get any other way.
We are forgiven ALL our sins. We have peace with God. The terrible, final, closed door of death has been wrenched open and a new hope given us that there is more than we have ever hoped for awaiting us -- an eternal home to return to, a welcome like none we have ever known.
Thou who wast rich, beyond all splendor,
all for love's sake, becamest poor;
throne for a manger didst surrender,
sapphire-paved courts for stable floor:
thou who wast rich, beyond all splendor,
all for love's sake, becamest poor.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
The Gift God has given us fulfills our lives each in a unique way: God reveals himself to us, not just in the One Lord, Jesus Christ -- but as Our Lord, Jesus Christ -- and as MY Lord, Jesus Christ. And what he does in your heart, and gives to your soul, and shares with your mind, and makes of your life is something special and wonderful and never to be repeated.
He knows just what you need -- and want -- and what it will take to fill your longing. "Thou hast made us for thyself," said St. Augustine, "and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee."
The perfect Gift is the one that you would never have picked for yourself; the life you would never have known to make for yourself; the love you would never have imagined could fill you so; the Savior in whom you FIND yourself, and KNOW yourself, and can even, finally LOVE yourself -- because he has found you, and knows you, and loves you in the most important way you will ever experience.
"What do you want for Christmas?" A set of golf clubs? A new bathrobe? Tickets to the theater? Home-made cookies? Those are all good gifts, and every good gift continues an echo of the greatest of gifts. But those are the things I might have picked, if God had not picked me, and given me the grace to say, that all I want for Christmas is the love of God in Jesus Christ, the child who has been born for me. And that he would do what seems good to him with my life.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.