“Christmas,” we claim, “isn’t about getting.”
I’m calling that out as a lie. It absolutely is about getting. Christmas without gifts isn’t Christmas. But it’s not just about getting a new sweater you’ll never wear or a toy you’ll be tired of in two days. Christmas is about getting a gift so great that it changes you forever.
Christmas is about getting that gift that alters your life, the gift that serves as the pivot point for the rest of you life.
We see this a lot in the gift we get as children and the careers we eventually take up. Some kids get art sets and become artists. Others get footballs and become a famous athletes. Still others get a chemistry set and become insurance salesmen. (They learned a lot about claims and coverage after blowing up the garage.)
But I’m thinking bigger. Look at our best Christmas stories. They all include a story in which a character receives something—usually an intangible component of selfhood that they were lacking—that results in a massive change.
In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer gets the gift of perspective. Seeing the value in the lives of others and paucity in his own life forced him to realize that true wealth is found in selflessly loving others. You have to give yourself away to find satisfaction.
In How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the Grinch is given the gift of revelation, discovering that the material trappings he stole did not addd up to Christmas. Christmas lives in the heart, and as such, the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes to accommodate it.
In Elf, Walter Hobbs is forced to confront his cold and detached way of relating to his family when his hitherto unknown adult son, Buddy, arrives to give him a hug. Initially off-put by Buddy’s exuberant personality, the truth of Walter’s coldness to his whole family becomes evident as they more readily accept the well-intentioned man-elf. Walter’s transformation results from the gift of unconditional love that Buddy heaps upon him.
Miracle on 34th Street has, perhaps, one of the greatest transformations as the naturalist, Doris Walker, is convinced of the power and importance of the intangibles of life—love, faith, peace, justice. Doris and her daughter, Susie, are given the gift of new hearts, capable of giving and receiving love. Like Scrooge, there was a wall around them that kept the wider world away. Like the Grinch, they saw Christmas and the rest of life from a purely materialistic point of view. Last of all, though they had a mutual affection for each other, it was not the jubilant, exuberant selfless love that a mother and daughter ought to share. They truly needed new hearts.
In each of these stories, someone gets something fundamentally changes them, not in a progressive or evolutionary way. They don’t become something wholly new and foreign to who they used to be. Rather, they become who they were always meant to be: human beings, alive on the inside and filled with love.
Christmas is all about getting. It’s about getting that one gift that fundamentally changes who you are forever, and that’s exactly what I got when I got to the gift of Jesus. He opened my eyes to see the importance of others and my role in bringing joy and peace both others. He revealed a whole new world to me that exists beyond the physical, a world in which the physical finds its source. He restored me to my earthly family as a healthier, more loving member, but He has also brought me into a new family, an eternal family, bound together by His exuberant love.
Lastly, Jesus has given me a new heart. This heart is alive, beating in sync with His own, and is capable of compassion, empathy, patient endurance, and a whole host of other virtues previously unknown to me. He has remade me completely and totally. I’m different on a very fundamental level, and I shall never again be who I used to be.
I’ll close with a quote that has always meant so much to me, and I think it will allow me to leave you with a gentle reminder that the gift of Jesus at Christmas only reaches its culmination at Easter.
If we grasp in our hearts the fact that Jesus died for us, it will change us completely: it will mean revolution; it will make something new out of us to the destruction of our sinful self so that we will no longer be slaves to it.
J. Heinrich Arnold