It was Christmas Day. A morning full of opening stockings and presents. Receiving much-anticipated and hoped for gifts. Playing with new toys and games. It had been a full day of little children enjoying Christmas…and all that they had received.
I intentionally saved the “Jesus Birthday Celebration” for later in the day. The time of day when usually the “it’s all over” feeling had set in. The presents were opened, the fun had been had. There was nothing left to anticipate.
THAT is the feeling I wanted them to have…as a way of reminding them that this is all fun and good and enjoyable, but this is not it. There is more. There is Christ. He is the reason we celebrate.
So…we gathered around the dessert table. The “Happy Birthday Jesus” song had been sung and the chocolate peppermint pie had been sliced and distributed. I began my now annual introduction to this portion of Christmas Day.
“We have one more gift to open,” I begin.
Brennan’s eyes get big with excitement. Micah looks surprised, until big sister Kiersten reminds him what it really is (i.e. don’t get your hopes up for a dog). Micah loses his exuberant surprised look, and now looks at me knowingly.
“Does anyone know what it is?” I prod.
“It’s the best gift of all,” Kiersten responds, knowing that it is baby Jesus, who has been there throughout advent. In my attempt several years ago to help build up anticipation of Christ’s birth, I had held Jesus back from our main manger scene. Throughout advent, we fill his empty manger with straw when we have done or said anything kind, preparing a soft bed for baby Jesus. On Christmas Day, during dessert, we open up the gift to find baby Jesus and the scripture verse from Romans 6:23, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It’s a simple way to remember, at the end of a day full of gifts, that Jesus Christ himself was and is the greatest gift…and the reason we celebrate at all.
“What does that mean?” Randy asks the kids, in response to Kiersten’s answer that Jesus is the best gift of all. Randy is not one to just take pat answers. He doesn’t want to raise kids who know what to say, but don’t really mean it, believe it, or even understand it.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat as I wonder how the kids will respond. Something in his voice…they way Randy asked the question…is penetrating. He’s asking in a way that encourages them to think deeply and answer truthfully. No fluffy Sunday School answers here.
Why am I uncomfortable? I think because I’m afraid his question will mess up “my plan”. My plan is to verbally and symbolically acknowledge that Jesus is the best gift of all, on this day full of gifts. But as I wait to hear how they will explain what that means, I’m afraid they might discover that they really don’t think he’s the best gift of all. As I mentally put myself in their nine-year-old, six-year-old, and three-year-old shoes, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t really think Jesus was the best gift of all. Could he really compare to a pottery wheel, Lego Star Wars kits, and Magna Tiles?
After a moment of awkward silence (maybe more awkward for me than anyone else) and an answer from Kiersten (he’s the best gift because he saved us), we continue on with the prescribed plan. Brennan, who doesn’t know what’s in the gift on the table, gets to open it up and find Jesus. He happily places him in the manger. I read the scripture passage and confirm what Kiersten said about why Jesus is such a great gift…we have eternal life through him. Inside, I’m hoping that this is convincing enough to them.
I couldn’t get Randy’s question out of my mind. The seriousness in which he asked it. The counselor that he is, he wanted to encourage the kids to think about what they were saying. To question it. To grasp it. To truly believe it. I have no idea what impact his question had on the kids, but his question truly impacted me. It caused me to wonder if I’ve fallen trap to our culture’s idea of Christmas. Can the kids truly think that Christ is a great gift…when they’ve just been given so many other great gifts? What is our role as parents to make sure they truly get it, believe it, and understand it…that Jesus really is the greatest gift?
That night, as I was laying in bed next to Randy, I had a thought:
“You know, Honey,” I said, “Christmas is a lot like our children’s birthdays. We celebrate them throughout the day, buy them gifts, put up pictures of them from each year of their life, and have cake and ice cream. But those things are not the most important part of that day. The birthday child is the most important part, the best gift. Presents, parties, and cake and ice cream are just ways of celebrating them.”
I pause…then continue. “The presents, the decorations, the advent activities are all ways to celebrate and remember Jesus. It’s our job to continue to remind our children why we do all that we do at Christmas. It’s okay to give (and receive) gifts, to decorate the house, to play with our new toys. They are all part of celebrating. We’re celebrating Jesus…the joy and life and the love that he brings.”
“Yes, dear,” Randy responds, half asleep (I don’t think he needed any convincing that all these things were okay).
I felt better. I’m piecing it together. I had found a tangible way to convey why Jesus really is the best gift of all. I couldn’t wait to share that perspective with the kids in the morning. There’s no need to get rid of all the fun stuff of Christmas, as long as we keep remembering and understanding whom it is we celebrate…and why we celebrate him.
And by faithfully doing so, year after year after year, some day the kids hopefully will understand why Jesus truly is the best gift of all. Maybe they already get it…it was just Mommy who needed some perspective.