What does Christmas mean to your family? My wife and I have a lot of hopes for what Christmas means to our family, yet sometimes it seems as if it means a very different thing to our kids than we want it to.
Our home is flooded with holiday mailers at the end of the year: “Big Sale!” “New Toys!” “Members-Only Specials!” And almost immediately after those ads start showing up, we’re flooded with Christmas gift lists.
More often than not, those gift lists are made up of things the kids didn’t even know existed until the ads showed up. But suddenly, getting the stuff is top priority.
There’s a danger in getting the stuff, a danger even bigger than the risk that marketers will reward shopping with even more ads the next year.
Jesus offered two big teachings about stuff in Matthew 6, during the Sermon on the Mount. First, He reminded us that earthly stuff isn’t built to last. It’s going to break, and it might even get stolen.
January usually brings a reminder of that, when the new toys start to experience the unique sorts of dysfunction that come from being used by six different kids. Suddenly the remote-controlled car will only drive in a curved path toward the wall. The fancy new marker set still has 24 markers but only 17 caps, and all the best colors are dried out. The delicious Christmas candies received by one of my kids have been covertly eaten by another one of the kids.
Those scenes never show up in the gift guides, but they often play a bigger role in our family members’ lives than the unwrapping scenes so joyfully depicted in the ads.
But the problem isn’t just that stuff is bound to fail.
Right after Jesus warned us about the limitations of stuff, He offered the second teaching on it. Jesus said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus is teaching us that our hearts will follow our treasures, and the stuff we place the most value in will be the same stuff our hearts are most firmly attached to. When those treasures break, it turns out our hearts will break with them. And despite all that work spent Christmas shopping, a stuff-centered life sets us up for heartbreak.
As insightful as those teachings are, Jesus came to do more than just deliver wisdom.
Advent is the season when we remember that God delivered Jesus to free us from the trappings of lives built around our stuff. Jesus came to free us to real life. He was born in that most unlikely manger so we could give our hearts and lives to God and experience a treasure that could never be broken, could never be stolen, and will never fade away.
That’s the Christmas story my family wants to embrace.
That doesn’t mean we avoid gifts or giving. The very birth of Jesus was one of the greatest gifts God has ever offered, and when we respond with the same sort of generosity and giving spirit, it’s a great way to glorify God. Gifting can be great.
But Jesus is the great gift, and that’s what we want Christmas to mean in our home, to both us and our kids.
So for all the time my family spends talking about gifts, we need to spend even more of our time talking about Jesus. As a family, we should reflect on the impact and the implications of His arrival on that lonely night so many years ago. We need to develop habits that put our treasures – our money, our time, our talents and our relationships – into gospel living during the Christmas season perhaps more than any other time of the year.
It’s called Christmas for a reason. This is His season, and Jesus is ready to receive us. He’s ready to receive our focus, our treasure and our time. Best of all, He’s ready to receive and steward our hearts so we can be freed from the kinds of disappointments those ads are sure to deliver – and freed to experience the gift of His love.