In case you hadn't noticed, it is Christmas time. Last year, Christmas was stressful because we traveled to see both of our families [one in Texas, one in California]. This year, still recovering from last year, we said no travel. This year, I'm under pressure of an entirely different sort.
As far as Sofia was concerned, Christmas wasn't too big of an issue last year. She got buried in gifts, which she loved, but the event itself didn't much sink in. Now, we are approaching the first Christmas where Sofia will be aware enough to develop some expectations for next year. This has been freaking me out.
I watched videos after Halloween of parents pranking their kids, pretending that they'd eaten all the trick-or-treat spoils. Those kids melted down like it was an Apocolypse. It was then I started worrying about the precedent I'd be setting for Sofia this Christmas. And sure enough, as we walked the isles at Target a couple of weeks ago, she was grabbing at every toy on the shelf shouting, "I want that! What is that? I want that!" Those toy makers sure know their market. Oyvey.
I can still remember the joy I felt at discovering that Christmas was a season of giving. When I was old enough to have a little allowance, I could save up and then go shop for presents for my family and friends. It was so much fun that it began to outweigh the fun of receiving gifts. And so as I approach Sofia's first memorable-Christmas, that was the joy I wanted to teach her. I wanted her to know that God gave us the greatest gift, His own Son, and so we too give gifts to others to follow His example and show our gratitude to God.
And we're doing activities to try to teach her about giving. She participated in Operation Christmas Child with our church, she's making crafted presents for our family members, today she decorated a cookie as a gift for Daddy, etcetera.
But I don't want to give her zero presents. Heaven knows I can't hold the grandparents back [nor do I really want to, they come up with great stuff that I couldn't afford to provide her]. How does one lavish love and supply excitement without creating an entitled brat? I was coming up short on an answer to this question.
. . . until today, when I heard this quote from Brennan Manning:
"The Kingdom belongs to people who aren’t trying to look good or impress anybody, even themselves. They are not plotting how they can call attention to themselves, worrying about how their actions will be interpreted or wondering if they will get gold stars for their behavior. Twenty centuries later, Jesus speaks pointedly to the preening ascetic trapped in the fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism, to those of us caught up in boasting about our victories in the vineyard, to those of us fretting and flapping about our human weaknesses and character defects. The child doesn’t have to struggle to get himself in a good position for having a relationship with God; he doesn’t have to craft ingenious ways of explaining his position to Jesus; he doesn’t have to create a pretty face for himself; he doesn’t have to achieve any state of spiritual feeling or intellectual understanding. All he has to do is happily accept the cookies: the gift of the Kingdom."
- Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, copyright 1990, 2008, page 53
I'm not sure Brennan was thinking of Christmas when he wrote it, but I was. I was decorating Christmas cookies, wondering how many I'd let Sofia eat when she got up from her nap (or lack there of, because I let her eat one this morning and that seems to have been enough sugar to last her through the rest of advent). But I think it gets at a piece of Christmas I've been forgetting about for years, or a piece I've maybe never grasped at all. Yes, Christmas is a season for giving. AND it is also a season for receiving. Accept those cookies. Accept those gifts. Accept THE gift. It made me think of a passage I've been meditating on lately, that talks about Christmas, children, and receiving:
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him,the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The tragedy in the story of the life of Christ is that He was not RECEIVED. And for those who did [do] not receive, they pass[ed] up the right to become CHILDREN of God.
There is an art to receiving. I think I often do not do it well. I am too often un-gracious and ungrateful of my gifts. But I can be working on that. And if it's taking me this long, it probably couldn't hurt starting to teach Sofia now a thing or two about how to receive well. We can start with receiving Christmas gifts, with delighting in the excitement of unwrapping something new, with showing appreciation and value for the giver. And as we get that discipline down, maybe we will prepare her little heart to receive the gift of Christ, the gift of New Life, with reverence, with gratitude, with humble honor and affection for the giver.
The giver of all good gifts doesn't just need us to be givers. First of all, He needs us to be recipients.