I always love this time of year. Christmas is such a personal blessing to me that I want to draw the season out as long as possible. I put up my tree the day after Halloween (yep) and decorate my entire house by the second week in November. I love the family activities, the extra time with my kids, the lights, the food… but mostly I love the celebration. Christmas represents the day my rescue was set in motion. It’s the celebration of the day the one person who truly saved my life was born on this Earth. It was the day the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
By choice, my precious Hero left the glory and presence of the Heavenly Father to come here so that He could live a short life full of ridicule and suffering in order to die a slow and painful death on a cross so that I could have freedom, healing, forgiveness, hope, love and unmerited favor. He came as a gift to me… and to you… the first Christmas gift to the world, not because we deserved it, but because we could never earn it. Jesus did not come as this gift because of our ability to be good, but because of our inability to be good. He came as this gift wrapped not only in swaddling clothes, but also in grace. Oh yes. This is a day to celebrate.
I didn’t always feel this way. For so many years I didn’t understand the depth of what Christmas meant. I didn’t understand what grace meant. I struggled under the weight and bondage of performance, never feeling like I could live up to my salvation. I felt guilt more than joy… like I would always fail to show Jesus I deserved the salvation He gave me. I tried and failed at being good all the time. I fought sin and lost time and time again. I just knew I was a huge disappointment to God and at any moment He would give up on me.
Then God opened my eyes to what the gift of grace truly means. There is no more condemnation for me through the power of Jesus….no more ever. (Romans 8:1). I am saved because of my faith in Jesus and through saying yes to the forgiveness graciously laid before me… not by works or behavior (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus was the full and final sacrifice for sin for all time, and He will remember my sin no more (Hebrews 10:12, 17)…all my sin. Through His Word I have learned that the process of sanctification takes time. I will struggle and fail but He will never leave me. He provides us with the Holy Spirit as a guide to convict us when we are not living the life God designed for us. He allows us to stumble, not to bring His wrath (which was poured out on the Cross), but to teach us faith in His mercy, love and grace.
As I began to understand this and as I continue to understand more deeply the character of my Savior, I love Him more, I am healed more, and chains of bondage continue to break away one link at a time. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.” Never again do I want to be enslaved by the bondage of performance, guilt or shame. I want to live and grow according to the Holy Spirit, driven by the passion of grace not the fear of condemnation. I want to dwell in the joy of the beautiful gift from God that came in the form of a tiny baby in a manger in Bethlehem.
So, here is the question I put forward to consider as believers who celebrate Christmas as the day of Christ’s birth: What are we really teaching our children when we tell them they are being watched for their behavior at Christmas time? That if they are bad, Santa will not bring them a gift? That there is a list of children who are too naughty to deserve gifts at Christmas and it is important to be really good to avoid that list?
I am not a “Christmas Magic Grinch”… Santa comes to our house, cookies are set out and reindeer food is in place. I even, extremely reluctantly, took out our dusty Elf on the Shelf for the first time ever (more on that in the post to follow). But I do take grace very seriously after overcoming the damage of legalism. When we tell our children that someone who is not God is watching them and has the power to determine whether or not they have behaved well enough to deserve a gift on the day we celebrate the unmerited gift of a gracious Savior, what foundation are we laying? A gift by definition is given without expecting anything in return. When we tell our kids that Santa is waiting with a watching eye or to stay off that naughty list or that some tattle tale Elf is going to keep them from getting anything on Christmas, the term gift no longer applies. What we are really giving Christmas morning is positive or negative reinforcement. That is the opposite of grace.
How can we teach our children that the baby born in the manger was Jesus, the Savior of the world who came as a gift of salvation because we can’t earn it, but then turn around and tell them they have to earn all the gifts they are receiving because we are celebrating the birthday of this Savior? It isn’t about the gift, but the meaning behind why the gift is given. Should that meaning be influenced by behavior? Should Santa or a list or an Elf be able to change that meaning?
This is something we have been dealing with heavily this week. The topic of the naughty list and whether or not it is real has caused my daughter worry that is unnecessary. We have always very adamantly been anti-naughty list, but that is hard to believe when your 8 years old and every Christmas song, movie, and story includes this list. My sweet and sensitive little girl has come, more than once, seeking reassurance from me, the one who is responsible for her spiritual foundation. If she messes up, will her gift be taken away? Oh how I asked my God that for many years….if I mess up, will Your Gift be taken away? Let us consider, as Christian parents, to make sure we let our children know it isn’t about what they are doing, but what CHRIST has done.