Tuesday, December 15, 2015
I read this quote for the first time a week or so ago, when a friend posted it on her Facebook wall in honor of St. Nicholas Day. It really got my attention and so I looked into this St. Nicholas of Myra. He was an interesting fellow. The way in which he was made bishop was unique. One of the wise men in charge of electing a new bishop had a dream in which God told him to choose the first man named Nicholas to enter the chapel for matins the next day. Nicholas of Myra was the first person named Nicholas to enter for matins that day, and therefore was made bishop. Another story talks about a famine in Myra. When several ships carrying grain came into the harbor there, St. Nicholas convinced the sailors to give the people of Myra a measure of grain from each ship. He told the sailors, who were fearful the missing grain would be found out, that God would make up the difference. When the ships' cargo was weighed, there was indeed no difference between what they had and what they were supposed to have. Still another time St. Nicholas petitioned Constantine to lower the taxes for Myra because they were so high that the people were suffering. Constantine agreed and the people of Myra were again saved from hardship.
So, this interesting long-dead bishop really put Christmas in perspective for me this year. My husband and I were talking about the gifts we were going to get for our kids this year, and he was talking about how much they already have and how they don't need anything, etc. I was agreeing with him on those points. He said something about how they really don't deserve a whole bunch of gifts, and that's where this quote came in. None of us deserve gifts. If Christmas were truly merit-based, there wouldn't be a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday because nobody would be buying gifts.
Christmas has become so commercialized. But more than that, for kids at least, it has become centered on their behavior and how they can earn their gifts each year. I totally understand motivating kids to be on their best behavior. I'm all for it. But in this instance, are we doing our children a disservice by obscuring the real intention behind gift-giving? Sure, we talk about Jesus being born and we're celebrating his birth after the fashion of the Wise Men, but it should be more than that. Jesus is no longer a baby in a manger. He's the Spotless Lamb who was sacrificed, dead, and then rose again and is alive today. He was the perfect gift; undeserved, unearned, and in no way related to our own actions. How much more meaningful is a gift given to someone who has no reason to expect one because they haven't earned it? It sheds a new light on Christmas for all of us and can be a powerful example for our kids if we'll just help them to understand that they're getting presents from their earthly parents even though their behavior didn't merit favor because in the same way, God their Heavenly Father sent His Perfect Gift to us when we didn't deserve it.
I love this view of gift-giving and it has changed my perspective. I love giving gifts to others. It isn't that my gifts are always merit-based, but this way of looking at the gifting tradition is going to make me think about who and why I am giving much more than I have in the past. It adds depth. It also makes me think differently about the gifts I receive. I'm far from perfect and my behavior today alone doesn't merit anything special. And yet, Jesus still died for me and the Father's Gift still stands. And that, my friends, is what Christmas is all about.