Being a mommy at Christmastime is like being a tour guide at some magnificent destination. I get the privilege of guiding them to experience all the wonderful sights, sounds, smells and activities of the season.
Sometimes we focus on a favorite tradition my husband or I had growing up or sometimes we create our own traditions. I enjoy the millions of questions that surface in the awestruck mind of a child.
However, I have noticed a question arising more and more in the last few years, not necessarily with my own children but with our culture as a whole. It has nothing to do with "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." It is the question, "Have you been good this year?"
Oh, I know. It's just a saying. We've all said it without any real meaning behind it. But through the marketing and merchandise around us, I believe this idea is creeping into our hearts and minds more and more. Many of you know of a little elf that you can pretend watches your kids to make sure they are being good.
Even in Christian circles, merchandise has been created to encourage our kids to be good this time of year. If not, they will find switches and ashes in their stocking. Of course, many dismiss it as part of the make-believe game we play with our children at Christmas.
I would argue it is more dangerous than that. The danger comes from the fact that it preaches a different Gospel. In the New Testament, Paul marveled that the church in Galatia was "turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel" (Galatians 1:6).
Even then, the people of Galatia were turning away from a Gospel of grace to a different gospel of works. The Gospel of Christmas is that God loved us so much He sent His only Son and all we have to do is believe in Him and He will grant us eternal life (John 3:16). Ephesians says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
The gift of Christ is a gift not based on our works. There is no naughty or nice list in Heaven where if we have more checks on the nice side we get the gift. The gift of Christ is given to us simply because God loves us and desires a relationship with us for His glory.
In light of this, I want to challenge myself to remove this false gospel from my vocabulary and most of all from my heart. How do I approach giving gifts this Christmas? Do I do it out of obligation? I truly desire my attitude of gift giving to be one that reflects the same attitude of God. I want to give out of an overflow of the incredible gift that God has already given to me.
Most importantly, I want to express love this Christmas in an unconditional way, expecting nothing in return, but pointing the object of my love back to my Savior who loved me so. What if my 4-year-old throws a fit that goes 10.0 on the Richter scale because he didn't get the right color cup on Christmas morning? Am I going to be just as joyful about giving him gifts as I would be if he had been an angel? What about that family member who rubs you the wrong way? Will you buy her a present out of obligation or will you see it as a way to minister to her and show her the unconditional love that comes only from Christ?
This Christmas, may we give our loved ones gifts not because they were nice to us, but because the greatest Gift-giver loved us so much to give us Jesus.
As we talk with our children, let us make it absolutely clear that receiving gifts has nothing to do with their works, but has everything to do with celebrating the greatest Gift of all. None of us deserve the Gift of Christmas, "but God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us," (Ephesians 2:4) gave us the most wonderful gift of all.
Melanie Lenow is married to Evan Lenow, an ethics professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is the mother of four children. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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