Can I be honest with you and tell you what my most distinctive Christmas memory is? It may be a little weird, but this week, as I searched my brain for what was the one thing from my childhood that I simply couldn’t forget about Christmas, this was the thing that came back to mind over and over again.
It wasn’t the year I got the Millenium Falcon and my dad got carpal tunnel from putting on the stickers.
It wasn’t the year I got a television for my room.
It wasn’t even the year I got a computer.
My most indelible Christmas memory is my great-grandmother, for almost 12 years without fail, giving me underwear and socks. Black socks. And white briefs. Just what every gift-obsessed, greed-consumed child wants to find beneath a spool of paper and a mound of tissue.
Socks and drawers.
I remember this gift so distinctly because it was nothing that I wanted. I dreamed of things that required batteries, things that could be played with, things that would make noise or shoot rockets or impress the kids across the street and establish that I was, once and for all, really, really cool. And yet every year, like clockwork, I would rip open the gift marked “To Jason, From Nanny” and my heart would sink as I gazed down upon yet another box full of undies and socks.
Yet, of all the thousands of gifts I’ve received over my lifetime, those annual boxes of practical goodness have remained my most central memory of Christmas. Partly because it makes for a funny story to tell; partly because of the sweetness of my grandmother to make sure that my great-grandmother had something to give us; but mostly because of all the things I got that I wanted, that was usually the one gift I got that I needed.
I read a lot, and so naturally this time of year is filled with blog posts and thoughtful articles from folks who decry the consumerization of Christmas. It’s become a vehicle for greed, they say; it’s become more about getting than giving, they shout; Christmas used to mean something, now it’s just an empty holiday overrun by the never-ending shallowness of the human heart. And I have to say, they have a point.
I realized this when, starting back in November, my son would point to the television every time a commercial came on and scream, “I WANT DAT!” Didn’t matter what the advertised item was: girl toy, boy toy, toy he already owned, toy too advanced for his age, toy too expensive for even Santa’s generous budget – once it appeared on the TV screen, Jon immediately established his desire for it to become his.
After weeks of working with him and reminding him that Christmas isn’t about getting everything insight, but really, it’s about the birth of Jesus and the gift of life to the world, we were finally able to whittle his list down to a few manageable things: lightsabers, a gun, Hot Wheels, a choo-choo train, and a hang glider.
Suffice it to say, Santa will have his hands full on that order.
But I saw in my son my own younger self, when the Christmastime world existed to fulfill my desires, to grant my wishes. Nevermind that I had a thousand needs, what I demanded from Christmas was what I wanted. Forget about socks or shoes or shirts or pants or a college savings account; who needs a CD or a stock certificate that might earn me money that I could only get at some random point in the future? I WANT STUFF NOW. Christmas was when I carefully constructed a master plan to fulfill my every little want – and my great-grandmother’s gift thwarted that plan. It tossed an ugly little monkey wrench into the working of greed in my heart.
The birth of Jesus is the same. It was not the expected gift from God; it wasn’t the anticipated revealing of the Messiah. Christ didn’t come with world-wide fanfare and trumpets blaring, with every king and his nation bending the knee to acknowledge him. Humanity didn’t get what it wanted when it came to its own salvation, but thank God, we got exactly what we needed.
It’s taken me years of thinking about my great-grandmother’s gift to be able to put it in the proper perspective. So let me encourage you tonight, as you leave and head into the rest of your Christmas celebration, to take a moment and consider the greatness of the God who gives us exactly what we need, and so much more than we could imagine.