The Gift You’ve Always Wanted
By Cameron Lee
Professor of Family Studies
I can get a little Grinch
-y around Christmas, because of my ambivalent relationship to American consumerism. And the usual denouncements of materialism at this time of year seldom produce the countercultural effects they envision. We respond instead with a chastened consumerism, one that has enough guilt to feel spiritually cleansing. We do not let go of our traditions so easily.
Under God’s grace, we are free to buy Christmas presents for each other, meaning that God will not send the plague on us for doing so. But for many families, the more important truth is that they are not
free to not
buy presents, for fear of disappointing someone. Or even more troubling: they’re not free to not get it right
. I know of families who are burdened by their Christmas shopping, anxious to “get it right,” and suffering the consequences of overspending in their attempt to do so.
Do you find less joy than stress in giving gifts to family and friends? Find the courage to talk it over with your loved ones. What do you really
want your Christmas celebration to be about? Be sure to go gently in that conversation, with humility and compassion. Speak honestly and listen deeply.
More importantly, focus on receiving again—with joy and gratitude—the gifts of God. For the real problem with consumerism is that it steals from us, little by little, the ability to recognize and be thankful for a gift.
In their worship, early Christians declared that Jesus the Messiah, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7).
Do we still retain our wonder at the gift of the Incarnation? God with us—born to a teenage mother groaning on the cold ground in a dark cave. Without a properly shaped imagination, we would be inspired more to pity, or even disgust, than awe. But this is God’s work, coming to us in earthly and earthy disguise, quietly and in the dead of night.
And more: “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil 2:13). The God of the universe, up close and personal, embodied not only in the baby, but in us, through his Spirit.
This is the miracle. God has already given us the gift we’ve always wanted: himself. Whatever joy our family celebrations may bring, it is but a shadow of the celebration of God’s self-giving love. How silently the wondrous gift is given; let us rejoice and be glad in it.