For weeks, my wife and my mother kept asking what I wanted for Christmas. They kept asking because I wasn’t giving them much in the way of answers.
Even my son, who is not quite three years old, knows what he wants for Christmas: a “spinning bulldozer with tracks.” Now, there’s a toy that sounds like it deserves a line in “Up On the House Top.” (Here is a hammer/and lots of tacks…)
Me? I finally came up with a couple of small items, and a request that my dad help me fix a screen door at my house — or, more accurately since he’s the handier of us, that he let me “help” him do it.
Kind of pitiful.
But then, the comparison between my list and my son’s carol-worthy wish is kind of the point. I think I enjoy Christmas even more now than as a kid: the rest, the family time, the rituals and traditions — everything except the part about the presents.
Rather than the nervous hope I felt for certain gifts as a child — that “I have to have this toy or that one” feeling — more and more I feel something approaching apathy about receiving Christmas gifts. (Luckily for everyone else, I still enjoy giving them.)
This isn’t an anti-materialism rant, and I don’t mean to sound holier-than-thou; there are plenty of things I would like to have but don’t. The source of my apathy, I think, is much more mundane: If there’s something I really want, I can buy it myself.
I don’t depend on anyone else to buy it for me, the way I did as a child. I won’t be irreparably or inconsolably disappointed if I don’t get the things on my list, even if it’s a very short one.
But that attitude only goes as far as the miracle of Santa Claus. It doesn’t cover the original and lasting miracle of Christmas itself.
Those of us who celebrate this as the day of our savior’s birth do so because that day two millenia ago brought a gift we couldn’t give ourselves.
In his excellent book published earlier this year, “King’s Cross,” Timothy Keller examines the gospel according to Mark — an account of Jesus’ life that begins not at his birth in Bethlehem, but at the beginning of his ministry some 30 years later. The first spoken sentences of Jesus recorded by Mark refer to “the good news” of the gift of salvation.
And in discussing the opening chapters of Mark, Keller makes this observation: “The essence of other religions is advice; Christianity is essentially news.”
I don’t take his observation to be a slight toward other religions, just a distinction. And I freely admit that Christians don’t always make it easy to see that our own religion is about news rather than advice.
But if there is a reason for Christian discomfort with the fact that Christmas has become a spectacle of material gifts that could be purchased any time, it’s this origin of our holy day as the day of a miraculous gift of good news, the day for receiving something we couldn’t otherwise have.
P.S. — I’m away next week, so this is (in all likelihood) my last post of 2011. As usual, comments will go through moderation while I’m away.
I want to thank each of you for being a part of the blog in 2011. We’ve had some great discussions, and I recently hit my last blog-related goal for the year. I appreciate what each of you has done to make this such a successful year. Have a Merry Christmas, and I’ll see you back here in 2012.
– By Kyle Wingfield