That’s kids for you: always playing with the boxes and wrapping, ignoring the gift inside.
Every parent and grandparent knows the tendency of children to be easily distracted by lesser things.
We secure the perfect gift, thrill at the thought of its unveiling, then feign a smile when it’s overlooked amid the glitter and crunch of utterly disposable Christmas packaging.
It occurs to me this advent season that we never really outgrow this tendency.
The lights and trees, the eggnog and shopping, they’re among the wonderfully wrapped boxes of Christmas, but not the real gift. How easy it is to get it all backward.
You would think being a Christian at Christmastime would prevent such distraction, but it doesn’t. Not for me anyway. I’m still prone to this. Are you?
I find that I’m too easily distracted – mostly by busyness related to lesser things – from more deeply treasuring the miracle of it all: God came down to this earth to save us from our sinful selves.
Some Christians figure the only way to get the priorities right is to completely shun the holiday’s temporal trappings – no lights, no gifts, no tree, no nothing that isn’t overtly “religious.”
Personally, I believe it pleases God that so much of his world is preoccupied with this party called Christmas – cookies, presents, evergreens and all.
The adjustment that must be made is within our own hearts.
Take Christmas lights, for example.
Each year I resist the tedious task of hanging lights outside. And I privately begrudge my many neighbors who always seem to get their bigger, brighter lights shining and flashing right after Thanksgiving. How special.
This year, I tried something other than my usual “I’ll-get-through-this-sorry-task” attitude.
This year, I silently savored the symbolism of all these lights, even as I untangled each strand, even as I discarded those that mysteriously stopped working between this season and last.
Jesus, whose birth we’re celebrating, is the light of the world.
He came down from heaven because this world is a terribly dark place. Evil and ignorance keep the world in darkness. And we never find our way and see reality until we receive Jesus as He is.
He is the gift. Christmas is all about him.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” declared the prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. “Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”
The darkness the Bible describes is a life alienated from God. It’s the sheer futility of even humanity’s best efforts to be at peace with God and one another.
God himself came to rescue us from this darkness … our sin and the mess sin produces.
That baby, born of a virgin, placed in a manger, is God. Jesus is “that true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world,” says John the apostle.
The hope of Christmas is not some smarmy sentiment that if we all work hard we’ll be better people, have better lives and finally get along with each other. The hope of Christmas is that Jesus has come to restore us to God through his perfect life and his sacrifice at Calvary.
You know, I still don’t really like hanging Christmas lights. But it’s helped me tremendously to ponder the powerful symbolism that the trappings of Christmas provide. (No, I haven’t come up with anything for fruitcake).
I do sometimes wonder if our heavenly Father looks upon all our busyness and obsession with good-but-lesser things this time of year and grieves that so many of us miss – or undervalue – his real gift.
But then, that’s just kids for you.
Steve Massey is pastor of Hayden Bible Church (www.haydenbible.org). He can be reached at (208) 772-2511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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