Friday, December 23

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

"When [the wise men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh."  ~Matthew 2:10-11 (ESV)

What is Christmas all about? No doubt, we get asked that question or hear it tossed around a lot this time of year. At Thanksgiving everyone discusses why they are thankful and what they are thankful for, and then we don't really think or talk too much about thankfulness until November rolls around again the next year. When Christmas comes along, we're all primed with hearts of thankfulness to talk about joy and giving and love and family. The holiday means different things to different people, and some even get downright hostile about it, one side refusing to acknowledge or allow any religious significance and denying the biblical story completely, and the other side forcefully declaring that everyone say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or they won't get our business. It's interesting to me how we can turn everything into a war.

I know why I celebrate Christmas, but I'm not going to force that down anyone else's throat. Each person has the right to choose what he wants to believe, and while I would love for everyone to know and experience the peace and the joy that I have personally found in Christ, it's not my place to try to make anyone else's choice for them. I can (and ought to) tell you why I believe what I believe, but I can't make you believe what I believe.

I'm a little sidetracked though because that wasn't exactly where I was going with this post. Over the past few Christmases I have thought a lot about what Christmas should mean to me and what I should take away from the holiday. And every year I'm slightly disappointed with myself because I get so caught up in the gifts and what I will get and what I'm going to give my family and friends, and then after all the giving and getting is over on Christmas day, I just feel a little empty inside, just a little unfulfilled. Even if I give and receive great gifts, there's still that slight hollowness that indicates I missed something. And I think the problem is my focus and the perspective of Christmas that has been deeply ingrained in me since I was a child.

I remember the night before Christmas always being such an exciting evening. My sister and I would be too wound up to get to sleep, but we wanted to go to bed early so "Santa" could hurry up and come. When we were younger and shared a bedroom, I remember us laying in our beds talking and guessing what our gifts might be until we'd both fall asleep. I remember waking up every year on Christmas morning earlier than I would wake up any other day of the year. If I woke up first, I'd go get Shanna out of bed and vice versa. The very first thing we did was run to the living room where the Christmas tree would be lit up with piles and piles of beautifully wrapped presents just begging us to tear into them. After surveying our awaiting treasures, we'd go get my mom out of bed (who was probably exhausted from staying up all night wrapping those gifts and arranging them neatly under the tree). I can just remember the giddiness and the excitement and the thrill of it all. It was so much fun. After it was all over, we'd be swimming in a sea of wrapping paper, tossing new clothes to the side and searching for batteries to put in our new toys. We'd then go to my dad's house and start the gift-getting all over again (I always said that was the one benefit of having divorced parents, TWO Christmases). Then after every box had been opened, I'd call whoever my best friend was that year and we'd spell out in detail what we each received, one of us inevitably getting jealous because the other got something better.

That's what Christmas was to me for many years. When I was in high school, I had to be a little cooler than that so I didn't display as much excitement and didn't get up quite as early, and then Christmas started to change. The older we get, the fewer gifts we get (even if they're more expensive gifts, it's still a smaller pile and doesn't look as impressive under the tree), and then we move out and start our own families and the gift pile definitely pales in comparison. I think part of that lacking feeling I get now after Christmas is over is because I know it will never again be like those younger years for me. It's a little sad to look back on those nostalgic times and realize that you can't go back to that. But the other part of the emptiness I think is because all those years of gifts and excitement about new toys and competing with my brother and sister to see if one of us got more than the other or got better gifts than the other, kind of created this self-seeking attitude and expectation about Christmas that hasn't quite ever gone away. Even after I put my faith in Christ in the 11th grade and came to realize the true significance of Christmas, I could never really turn off what I'd always thought it to be.

Enter Brock. There's a part of me that wants to buy tons and tons of gifts for my child and let him experience the excitement and fun that I had on Christmas morning seeing and opening all those presents under the tree. Then there's another part of me that wants to not do gifts at all so he never grows up expecting things from people and never gets spoiled or ungrateful and so he values Christmas for its biblical meaning and nothing else. But thankfully, I don't have to choose one extreme or the other and the rational side of me has decided to take a balanced approach.

A few years ago, after Blaine and I had been married a couple of years, I read an article in a magazine or online or somewhere about an idea of how to make Christmas affordable, practical, and maybe a little more spiritual than material and I really liked it. The suggestion was rather than buy a bazillion gifts, to pick out only three things: Something they need, Something they want, and Something educational. The premise behind this idea is that the biblical story of Jesus' birth records the wise men bringing him three gifts: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Blaine and I started putting this into practice with each other because I thought it was a really great way to keep our spending in check (I really love to give gifts and that's probably the one area in our budget that I generally overspend because I can always justify in my head buying something to give to someone else), but it also ties the gift-giving at Christmas back in with the story of Christianity, which is the reason that Blaine and I celebrate this season.

So now that Brock is in the picture and this is his first Christmas, our goal has been to start the 3 Gifts from the beginning and continue on with that each year. I want Brock to learn that the part of Christmas that brings the real happiness and joy is not what Santa Claus brings or what's under the tree on Christmas morning, but rather it is what Jesus brought 2000 years ago and the gift that he offers freely to all of us. It's not about new toys or new clothes. It's about the opportunity to receive a new heart, a new spirit, a new life, an opportunity that Christ gave us when he came to this earth, being born as a human and later dying a cruel and unjust death so that we might live. It may sound like fiction or fairytale to some, and it doesn't seem like a logical story, the God of the universe comes as a baby to live as we live on this earth and to walk among us only to be killed and rise again after three days. Even as I write these things I understand how someone can have a hard time believing a story like this, but the Bible also addresses that fact:
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, ΝΑSB)
So this is why we celebrate Christmas and this is what I want to teach our children. I want to give them gifts and I want it to be a fun time of year where we put up Christmas trees and lights and we make cookies and take pictures with Santa, and I don't want to remove any of those great traditions from the picture, but I want it to be clear that those are not what it's all about. Those things are not WHY we celebrate, they are just a part of the celebration. We don't celebrate our own birthdays because of the balloons and streamers and cake and gifts - those are things that we do to celebrate our coming into the world. Similarly, the celebration at Christmas is about Jesus coming into the world and those other things should help us reflect on him and remind us of him, not distract us from the truth. This is what we want to teach Brock, and this is what we hope he will eventually believe for himself, not because that's what he grew up hearing but because it hopefully will make a profound and meaningful impact in his heart one day.

Merry Christmas!
"The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”” Luke 2:11-14, NLT

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful Post Shelby! I am glad Brock has parents like you and Blaine! Merry Christmas to the 3 of you!