By Bill Easum
I still remember the thrill of Christmas I had as a child. The expectation was awesome; the waiting for the tree was brutal. Then it happened; time to tear everything to shreds to see what goodies lay beneath all the wrapping. Some years Santa was right on track; other years Santa must not have been listening.
Then I grew up and I learned that Christmas was for kids and Santa didn’t exist. I took it in stride on the outside; on the inside some of the magic of life vanished.
The real problem with my childhood was I never heard a Bible story related to Christmas. All Christmas was to me was receiving gifts, and the right gifts for that matter.
When I was about ten or twelve we spent Christmas with a weird Aunt and Uncle and their two boys (who are now retired missionaries). I thought my Uncle was weird because he always wore a white napkin on his head while sitting in his favorite chair. But his kids were really weird. Each night they read the Bible and prayed for what seemed like hours. At the dinner table they held hands and each one prayed until I was starving (I had never seen people do that before). I know my mom and dad were uncomfortable. I wondered why we were there in the first place.
The day before Christmas my two cousins and I went to town on the pretext of buying Christmas presents (little did I know they didn’t exchange gifts on Christmas). We were in front of a department store when it happened. We were passing on of the Salvation Army’s Santas and the large black pot into which people dropped money. As we passed the pot my two cousins grabbed me, reached into my pocket, got all of the money I had earned with which to buy Christmas presents and threw it into the big, black, kettle.
Well, I was livid. I called them every name in the book. When we got home I told my parents. And then God did his magic.
My Uncle sat me down and told me the story of Christmas. I had never heard it like that before – God sending his Son on my behalf. It was really weird.
The next morning was Christmas and we gathered around the fireplace (there wasn’t a tree) and sang Christmas carols- I knew some of them, but not many. Then my parents and I opened our gifts while my Aunt and Uncle and two cousins looked on. When we were finished, my Uncle told everyone that this year their Christmas gift was going to some well needed project in some far corner of the world- I really can’t remember where. But the point is- they didn’t give each other gifts; they sent it all away.
Within a few months I forgot all about this incident and went on with my life. Years later, when God got hold of me and I began this awesome journey which I’m still trying to figure out, I began to understand what my two cousins were trying to tell me – Christmas is a time of giving rather than receiving since we have already received enough in the Son.
Several years later my wife and I decided to stop giving gifts to ourselves and our families. It was one of the most liberating things we ever did. No more pushing and shoving trying to get through the Christmas crowds. No more trying to buy something for someone who has everything. Now we could simply enjoy the season and its founder.
Well, it didn’t set well with our families that we no longer gave or received gifts. That first Christmas of no gifts we had to return some gifts with an explanation. But the explanation explained the real reason for Christmas- Neither of our families were very religious- some would say they were non-Christians. Later in life some of them saw the light. Those were great days.
Later, our decision not to give or receive gifts at Christmas became known in the church I was pasturing and other people began following our lead. Soon it developed into a program called the Christ Child Tree in which people gave a gift to our mission equal to what they would do for themselves. Over the years the gifts equaled a thirteenth month of income for the churches mission.
The moral of this tale? Put Christmas in its proper perspective- even for your kids. Don’t let Wall Street dictate how you spend your money or the season. Make a gift to your favorite missionary endeavor or your church.