I love Christmas, me. I love Chris Rea, Wizzard, Paul and Yoko and the Pogues. I love carols. I love mince pies, mulled wine, and sausage stuffing. I love buying presents for my family and friends. I love having something to be excited about. I am like Scrooge, the way he turned out in the end. (I love A Christmas Carol.)
Christmas certainly means different things to different people. This week I was reading about the trend of buying just four presents for your child: one thing they want; one thing they need; one thing to wear; one thing to read. I also read a lot of opinions about this idea, which I found quite enlightening. I turns out that the idea of only buying four gifts for your child is pretty scandalous. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, as Christmas for many people is focused on their children. When I had my first child, someone said to me that I’d enjoy Christmas much more now because it’s more magical with children around. I kind of know what he meant, but to be honest I don’t think my brother and I ever lost the magic of Christmas. We behave like children as soon as we cross the threshold of our parents’ home anyway.
It’s true, is it not, that much of Christmas involves watching your children. Watching them in the school play; watching them opening their presents; watching them sit on Santa’s knee; watching them ride their new bike. And I’m not judging that, but I think there must be more to Christmas than that. I feel that if our Christmas joy is wrapped up in our children, disappointments may abound. What if they are playing the innkeeper’s silent dog again? What if they have a trantrum abut their presents? What if they cry on Satna’s knee? What if they fall of their bike and end up in A&E? And, perhaps worst of all, what if they know that our Christmas joy depends on their contentment? That’s a lot of pressure.
I think we can have a more joyful perspective. My pastor says that in marriage, rather than spending our lives staring into each other’s eyes, we should be walking hand-in-hand towards the throne of God. Or as Tim Keller puts it, we say “I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!” (from The Meaning of Marriage.)
I know that parenting is not marriage. They are different. However, if we are walking hand in hand towards the throne and taking our children with us, how much more exciting that will be than if we are just gathered around our children, focusing on them. And how liberating it will be for us and them if we know that Jesus is the one who makes Christmas wonderful.
If the Nativity play serves as a reminder that God’s Son came to live amongst us, then nobody will mind which part they play. (My children’s school play isn’t anything to do with Jesus this year, but thankfully they’ll be in a couple of other nativities.) If the gifts are there to remind us of God’s amazing gift of his perfect Son, then we’ll be more than happy with one or two (or three or even four!). If we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus and all that means for us as God’s people, we won’t have time to queue up for Santa’s grotto anyway. And as for the trip to A&E, that will be something of a disappointment. But that’s OK, because we’re looking ahead to a perfect world, made open to us by the coming of our Saviour.
It’s so easy at Christmas to get our heads down and forget the bigger picture. To get stressed about the shopping or the cooking or the costume-sourcing. But I’m going to try to lift my eyes to Jesus, to his scandalous incarnation, to God’s glory, to good news of great joy, and I’m hoping that my children will follow my gaze and look up at him with me.