So here we are in Advent, preparing for the coming Christmas… the coming festivities, parties, gifts, and sparkle. And the babe in the manger who came on that silent night can be easily overshadowed by the bells and bustle.
American culture makes this time into a sort of game, a competition, another leg of the Rat Race. No sooner are our bellies full of turkey thankfulness than the starting gun rings out and the race begins. Who will get the best deals, the earliest deals, the coolest toys and gadgets? Who will have bragging rights come Christmas day, inspiring the envy of their friends because of their cool stuff? Oh, yeah, and happy birthday, Jesus… and did you see my super, new, best thing?
This Christmas one-upmanship has a powerful effect on kids. They see the commercials, and hear people talking. They want and want and want. They quickly learn, in this great land of opportunity and plenty, that they do not have enough. Most have not yet learned the truth that they will never have enough unless they learn contentment. So if they don’t get that prized item, they can take it pretty hard, especially if their friends enjoy bragging about what they got.
Instead of the generosity of giving, much on display is the selfishness of getting. The main job of Santa is, after all, to bring kids what they want (although he is strangely biased toward the more well-off kids).
In the name of Christmas we can reinforce selfishness, continually asking kids (and adults) what they want for Christmas. “What do you want for Christmas?” “What will you get for Christmas?” It puts all the focus on themselves. What if we start asking what they will give, what we will give? “What will you give for Christmas this year?” “What are you excited to give?” Are we prepared to be thankful regardless of what we get?
God gave… that’s how Christmas started. He gave first, and He is our example to follow. He set the standard. But the focus can easily shift to getting rather than giving, and while the two are different sides of the same coin, the emphasis is important.
We can give gifts from a store, gifts of time, homemade gifts, gifts of experiences, gifts of togetherness. Teaching our kids to value them all can be a challenge. But words have power, and as we begin to change how we talk about Christmas, along with what we emphasize, the focus can begin to shift.
Maybe I haven’t done the best job so far of teaching my kids to be joyful givers. I think when kids are really young, sometimes we do not expect much from them, but as they grow we need to require more and raise the bar. Everyone has talents and time that they can give even if they have no money to buy presents. We need to encourage kids to be givers.
My kids have high expectations and hopes for this Christmas, just like every year. But they also know without a doubt that they will not be getting everything they want. (I tell them this to make it clear.) I am sure they will be disappointed because some friend gets a new cell phone or those expensive sneakers they will outgrow in six months or some other wonderful, amazing thing that my kids did not get.
And that will be fine. It’s okay to be disappointed. Sometimes it’s even good. Disappointment can lead to growth and maturity, and that, while maybe not appreciated at the time, is a great gift itself.
So, as we head toward Christmas this Advent season, let’s bring along our Thanksgiving thankfulness, look for ways to give joyfully to others, and graciously accept disappointment. Let’s give out of a fullness of love, following the Father’s example, and letting that Rat Race run right on by. That kind of Christmas honors the God who stooped low to love us.
And if you see my kids around, feel free to ask them what they are giving for Christmas.