When my wife and I compare our childhood Christmas stories, we come up with very different memories. Her middle-class parents (a minister and a schoolteacher) somehow managed to stock their Christmas tree with a boatload of gifts wrapped in a flurry of fluffy bows.
Their traditions called for each person to open his gifts one at a time while raving over the beauty of the paper and commenting on the mystery of the contents. The entire event was such a gift-opening marathon that they often had to pause for lunch and a nap.
But when I try to share my childhood Christmases with her, she just looks away. She’s disheartened to hear that by my midteens, our family stopped buying Christmas trees because my dad associated the whole thing with a consumer culture.
My dad limited gift-giving to the exchange of single gifts of necessity on Christmas Eve, such as socks, underwear and pajamas. I now know that he was simply covering the embarrassing truth that we lived just a little above poverty level.
Becky says that my childhood Christmases sound a bit deprived and I shouldn’t share them. Nevertheless, I don’t remember them that way. In fact, the recession we find ourselves in has caused me to more deeply cherish the most meaningful gift my father passed to me: faith.
It was a faith recounted many times during our Christmases as my dad read and reread the story of the frightened village girl who heard the news of her pending pregnancy from an angel.
I love how “The Message” translates that moment in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel.
“God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin. ... Gabriel greeted her:
You’re beautiful with God’s beauty,
Beautiful inside and out!
God be with you.”
She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.
“He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever — no end, ever, to his kingdom.”
This simple story has a way of reminding us all that the reason for the season isn’t about receiving gifts but about the giving of ourselves. For if you celebrate the Christmas story in its full meaning, you are obligated to follow it through to its finale — Easter.
For it isn’t until Easter that we can see the original Christmas gift wasn’t gold, frankincense and myrrh but the sacrificial gift of God himself.
So while you may not be able to afford to give the latest game console or the largest diamond, Christmas reminds us of the need to consider ways in which we should give of ourselves in sacrificial ways.
Email Norris Burkes at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net.