‘Tis the season for last minute Christmas shopping, traffic jams, and hoards of grumpy people in the electronics section at Target. As for myself, I personally had a pleasant time with my in-laws last Sunday, and my wife thankfully knocked out the Christmas shopping promptly, meaning yours truly has not been left in a pickle as to whether to brave the traffic at the mall or to risk Amazon not delivering a package in time, and this whole process of preparation for Christmas celebrations has gotten me thinking about Christmas gifts in particular.
Now, before we proceed to the bulk of the blog, I must note to the Truly Reformed™ brethren that this is all under the assumption of Romans 14 Christian liberty. There is no command for the Christian to observe or celebrate Christmas, but you also have a command to not judge those who do celebrate the Incarnation on a particular day (Rom. 14:3).
There is also a clear command from Scripture to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), so while the Christian is at liberty to celebrate or not, he must do it in honor of the Lord (Rom. 14:6). This means that whether we’re cooking a family dinner for the holiday or giving/receiving gifts or decorating a tree, we must do it as Christians, because Jesus is Lord.
So, why do we give Christmas gifts?
Honestly, the history is murky at best, so I can’t really make a solid, historical argument without veering into speculation. But before I make the case of why we give gifts, I want to address two possible missteps.
There are two ditches one can swerve into, especially with the weather most of the country is dealing with right now.
The first is materialism. Whether it’s someone buttering up family members for the last several months to sweeten the pot, or whether it’s telling kids about an imaginary fat man who turns children into advocates of the Prosperity Gospel, this error amounts to finding satisfaction rooted in our stuff. This is why we see hoards throwing punches at Black Friday sales over flatscreens and Furbys, and this is why so many get stressed out this time of year. If the stuff isn’t just right, it’s ruined.
But Jesus told us that our lives aren’t comprised of our possessions (Luke 12:15), and that includes not only gifts we receive but also the ones we give, and Jesus actually went so far as to say that your family should be counted as nothing compared to your love for him (Luke 14:25-33).
On the other side of the road we run into a pseudo-asceticism, the kind you might feel like participating in after doing a Francis Chan book study or hearing a presentation from your church’s sponsored missionary to Sub-Saharan Africa. “All of this crap can burn; the Gospel and what people do with it is literally the only thing that matters,” you might say. This is the exact inverse of the previous problem. Instead of the material and possessions being ultimate, we deny that the material and our possessions are good in the first place.
And when God says that the material world is good eight times in the first chapter of the Bible alone, you’re left with accepting the fact that Jesus actually came to redeem creation. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be groaning in anticipation of the revealing of the sons of God in order to be set free, not to be destroyed and replaced (Rom. 8:19-21).
No, we are to receive material blessing from God with thanksgiving, because it really is from him, for him, and to him, and we possess all things as co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 11:36, Rom. 8:14-17).
Gifts, grace, glory
So, why? Why do we spend time and money we won’t get back in order to give other people stuff that they may or may not enjoy?
We give gifts because we’re made in the image of God, and it is fitting in this season of celebrating the best gift ever given in the Incarnation of the Son by also giving gifts. And when God gives gifts, all of which are grace, he doesn’t measure them out by the milliliter of some off-brand knockoff. He instead inundates us in oceans of his grace out of his fullness (John 1:16).
We give not out of some trite sentimentalism about eight-pound, six-ounce baby Jesus and hokey living Nativity scenes. We do it because God the Son became a zygote, an embryo, and a fetus. He had a real umbilical cord that had to be cut. He had to have his diaper changed, all while upholding the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). This was God’s opening salvo in his 33-year blitzkrieg to crush the serpent’s head. Christ’s active obedience started in the womb (1 Cor. 1:30; Heb. 5:8).
So when we give, we give because God has given us much, and when we receive, we receive because we have received much (1 Thess. 5:18; Col. 3:17).
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end. – Is. 9:6-7a