ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO—There are many marvelous Christian holidays. But contrary to public opinion, when it comes to theological weight, Christmas is the second most important holiday in Christendom, Easter taking top notch. Christians celebrate Christ’s birth (His first coming) on Christmas and Christ’s resurrection (with a keen eye towards His second coming) on Easter Sunday. There is rich, Biblical significance to both, interwoven as a tapestry of God’s providential hand in history.
With all of its various nuances, Christmas has become more than just a theological position to defend, however. The holiday has morphed into a cornucopia of tradition—both religious and secular (some traditions downright silly, others wonderfully beautiful).
One of the most meaningful traditions of the Christmas season is focused time spent with family, both extended and immediate. I must say that I’ve been blessed with three wonderful children (people with children of their own are saying the same thing about your offspring as you read this). Furthermore, I’ve been privileged to watch them grow over the years. What dawned on me this past Christmas is that the holiday season is an amazing gauge of children’s mental and spiritual maturity.
As simplistic as this may seem, I’ve witnessed my children’s growth by the gifts they give.
In years past, the gifts received were what you’d expect from kids in elementary school—things picked out by mom. But as they matured, so did the gifts; they began to think through what was significant to the person receiving the gift. Put another way, they contemplated the person, not necessarily the procedure of the gift-giving protocol (“I received something, so I should give something. And who cares what the gift is”).
As young adults, my children have come to recognize that gift giving is not about getting something in return, but blessing the individual with measured meaningfulness. In a way, they picked up on St. Paul’s teaching (quoting an unrecorded statement of Jesus not found in the Gospels), “it is better to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).
A giving nature in children is marvelous for a parent to see. In giving, one recognizes God’s heart: His commandment to give—particularly love (John 13:34); His yearning for others to give (Acts 20:35); and His craving to give of Himself through the Son (John 3:16) and Spirit (John 3:34).
But beyond a physical gift (the presents), the gift that was the greatest to me this Christmas was watching my children grow in their understanding of gift-giving, recognizing that the greatest Gift was given: Christ. And pursuing Christ in all we do is the finest present we could give our world—a life dedicated to God’s purposes and passions in the world.
Do yourself a favor this coming New Year: give of yourself; give the gift of your life. Allow your life to infuse the world with a God-saturated presence, bringing God's love to a world deeply in need of God's love in Christ. For like my own children growing in their understanding of gift-giving, let all of God's chirldren learn what it means to give.
Even a world-wise artist such as Pablo Picasso understands this truth. He said, "The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." As Christians, we know the gift: Christ. Now learn to give the Gift away through your life.