Do you remember how you felt at the approach of Christmas when you were a small child? All the sorts of emotions that adults might feel at winning a multimillion dollar lottery jackpot or a MacArthur “genius grant,” or falling madly in love and knowing that the object of our affection feels the same way — all this and more is felt by children at Christmas. My late mother-in-law Marion used to say that in simpler times and places people didn’t make such a fuss over Christmas; indeed cash=strapped rural and small town families couldn’t dream of going on toy and gift binges like so many parents do today. Marion and her eight siblings were happy to find a fresh orange in a stocking on Christmas morning. But certainly for my generation — the baby boomers — and our children and grandchildren, expectations and customs have been different, even in families of modest means.
I remember the nights spent tossing and turning, too excited to sleep. I remember leaping out of bed at five in the morning — even then I was a night owl who hated early morning wake-up calls on school days — and racing downstairs to discover the magic piles beneath the Christmas tree. Christmas was one time of year my wishes could actually come true. The anticipation was delicious. But even living in a family of four children, with a stay-at-home Mom and a Father working for a no-frills, home-owned business, I found the reality of Christmas pretty amazing as well. In retrospect, I think Christmas as I experienced it was an early lesson in evangelical theology, illustrating the concept of sheer, unmerited grace. I simply didn’t get multiple gifts of my choice at other times, not even on my birthday, which came too close to Christmas to generate much energy around our household.
One Christmas morning when I was about ten – no small child but still in the thrall of Christmas magic — I awakened two grumpy parents by the thump, thump, thump of my shiny new official major league baseball into the pocket of my Rawlings Mickey Mantle baseball mitt. But they couldn’t stay grumpy as they saw the sheer delight on my face. Then, no sooner had the sun come up, than I pulled on my new Spalding kangaroo leather cleats to go crunching out onto a frosty December lawn. The memory is still vivid more than fifty years later.
We adult Christians often sound like a collection of grinches as we complain about how commercial interests and Godless materialism have co-opted Christmas, and – by the way – what a pain our own shopping lists are. But if we could transfer to our spiritual journeys the same unrestrained and unadulterated joy that children feel at Christmas, then we and our children and our grandchildren and the world would be immensely better off. For God’s gift to us of eternal adoption as God’s children and heirs, through the merits of Christ, is more precious than all the lottery jackpots, love matches and Christmas stashes in the world, all wrapped up into one.
For behold I am bringing good news of great joy for all the people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)
Christmas, it’s wonderful! Throw your hearts open to its joy!
—Dr. David L. Wheeler