I have decided I like being an adult at Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong; it was great being a kid. I remember the excitement of seeing the piles of presents under the tree, poking around to see which ones were for me and trying to guess what was in them. I remember the magical feeling of lying on my back and staring up at the lights, imaging that I had crept through a cave into a secret world. School was out, there were good things to eat, and usually it snowed at some point and we got to go sledding. Christmas as a kid was great.
But I like being an adult better. I’ve been walking with Jesus for a while now, and I know the One we’re celebrating a lot better than I did back then. There are Christmas songs that move me to tears as they remind me what a gift He is to us. That never used to happen. And I’m finally getting to the point where I understand something He said that didn’t make any sense to me when I was younger.
In Acts chapter 20, the Apostle Paul reminds the elders of the Ephesian church of a statement Jesus made, which apparently they were all familiar with, even though it isn’t recorded in any of the Gospels. The only reason we know about it is that Paul quotes it in Acts 20:35. In the previous verse, he is reminding them how hard he worked to serve their church when he lived among them, and then he says: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
I remember as a kid hearing adults say “It’s better to give than to receive,” and feeling like it was one of those things church people are supposed to say that no one really believes. It sounded like nonsense to me. How could it be better to give than to receive? When you receive, you get stuff, and when you give, you lose stuff, which is clearly worse, not better. Unless, of course, Jesus meant that when you give, later on God rewards you and gives you more, so you end up receiving more than you give. That seemed okay, but still not all that appealing to a child. It just seemed to confirm that the things God wants us to do are always hard and not much fun.
I see it differently now. Last month as Christmas was approaching, I realized that what I was looking forward to most about Christmas was the moment we would tell the kids about a big surprise gift we were giving them. Like a lot of people, we had a lot of plans cancelled in the past year, and our kids dealt with a lot of disappointment. Our 20th anniversary was the week before Christmas, and because we sold our home on the Oregon coast last year, we were going to be able to take a nice trip to celebrate. But as a gift to our children, we decided to include them and turn it into a family vacation to Hawaii in a few months. We knew that our kids had no idea this was coming, and we knew they would be surprised and overwhelmed and grateful and excited. And I realized that I hadn’t given a single thought to whether there were any presents for me under the tree. I wasn’t looking forward to what I might receive. I am richly blessed and there’s nothing I really need. The real source of joy for me was the delight and gratitude in my children’s eyes when we told them about their gift.
I think God is that way. I think when God sent His Son into the world, it delighted Him to anticipate our delight. I think when we understand who Jesus is and what His coming means, we are supposed to be surprised and overwhelmed and grateful and excited, and the joy in our eyes brings joy to our Father. He loves to give us good things. He would rather be the giver than the receiver, because He knows better than anyone the blessing of blessing others.
On Christmas Eve, we spent much of the day cleaning the house, because family was coming over. On Christmas Day I made breakfast and did the dishes, and Carey spent much of the day working in the kitchen, making a huge dinner for our extended family. I watched a YouTube video on how to carve a turkey (which I did pretty well, I think) and did more dishes. And all that time our kids were enjoying their gifts. I remember being a kid and thinking “Man, it must stink to be a grownup on Christmas, because you have to cook and clean and do dishes.” I didn’t know then what I know now: that parents love their children more than they could ever love a gift. Again this year, through stockings and decorations and gifts and meals, Carey made the magic of Christmas happen for our children, and I helped out where I could. And we wouldn’t trade it. As we put our love for our children into action, we are blessed more than they are.
I hope you know that God delights to give you good gifts. He is not standing in Heaven with his arms crossed, watching to see if you measure up. Instead, He came to earth and stretched out his arms on the cross to offer you Himself, the very best gift He could give. He did it gladly, joyfully. And now He is watching to see the joy on your face when you realize how much He loves you, how much He has given you in His Son. When we receive Jesus with gratitude, we bless God. And when we give our lives away for the sake of others as He did, we are blessed. Merry Christmas (a few weeks late) and Happy New Year.