Friday, December 14, 2007

What Do You Want for Christmas?

Isn't that a strange question? "What do you want for Christmas?" Not, "What are you giving someone else for Christmas?" or "What are you most thankful for this Christmas?" Or even, "What do you hope your friends and family receive this Christmas?" No. It's, "What do you want for Christmas?" Because, of course, Christmas is all about getting stuff. And not just any stuff. The stuff you want.

It makes sense, I guess, if you're talking about Secular Christmas. But even then, the focus is, or used to be, on gift giving. We've made it about gift receiving. Of course, we're brought up that way and bring up our children that way. We ask them the Insidious Question, without thinking about its implications. We bring them to the Mall Santa for the expressed purpose of him asking them that question. We simply want to know what they would like; we want to get them what would make them happy.

Which would be okay if we sloughed off that attitude as we grew up. But Americans are now in the habit of never growing up. Throughout life, it's, "What do I want?" We hint, we connive, we read the ads and lust after the new toys or gadgets or fashions that are being displayed to whet our appetites. Christmas is an excuse to Get What I Want. It performs the same function as President's Day or Labor Day, only on a grander scale. It's the granddaddy of all marketing tools.

One sees the attitude in its rawest form in the way gifts are received. The disgusted expressions when a gift received is not What I Wanted. Or maybe it's not the right color or the right style. That's why it's so important to have that gift receipt, to preserve the fiction that the recipient does not know and should not care how much the gift cost, but is able to return the gift and so procure what was Really Wanted. I know, I know, sometimes it's a size issue, or duplicate gift issue. Not all returns are Bad Things. But really, where did we ever get the idea that a gift was anything other than a gift? That we shouldn't be appreciative of a gift just because it was given and because there was no obligation to give anything at all?

But of course, that lack of obligation that marks a True Gift is exactly what we don't want at Christmas. At least in our language we've become honest enough to call gifts what they are: exchanges. We don't give gifts, we exchange them. "I'll get you what you Really Want, if you get me what I Really Want, and then we'll both be happy." Until the bill comes.

So it merely makes sense that we end up just getting gift cards. Why bother shopping if the recipients are merely going to return the item and shop for themselves anyway? Perhaps a shopping spree is, in the end, what they Really Want. Eventually, maybe we'll all just cut out the middlepeople and just buy stuff for ourselves at Christmas. It would save everyone a lot of work.

But if you're celebrating Christian Christmas, I don't see how this whole mindset can enter the picture. Christmas is the day on which we celebrate the greatest gift God ever gave to us humans. "What do I want for Christmas? What do you mean? I've already received it--or rather, Him." It's not what we want, but what we have already been given, that we are celebrating. And it's worth celebrating, joyfully celebrating, and by all means, let's give gifts in the process. But let's give them without expectation of return, and let's receive them as gifts--as something unearned, to be enjoyed freely and thankfully. Let's not worry about what we want for Christmas. Let's give what we can and enjoy what we have received, from the gracious hand of our Father, who loves us and gave His Son for us, so we could have life, and life more abundantly.

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1 comment:

  1. Fine! Just spoil my sermon for this Sunday! Maybe I should just let YOU preach! :-)

    Good stuff, buddy.