Saturday, December 25, 2010

The children were awful! And we gave them gifts anyway.

The last few years have been rough leading up to Christmas.

I don't know if it is true for every house but it seems that the weeks leading up to Christmas have been particularly hard. Just when you think the children would be on their best behavior - they seem to be on their worst!

They fight with each other over the smallest things, they deliberately provoke each other, they throw tantrums, pout, sulk, and seem to go out of the way to make us want to push them away. We sit down and patiently go over our expectations, provide them with coping skills, and encourage them to do the right thing and just when we think we are getting through to them - WHAMO! Someone is doing something to someone else. Not only won't they stop doing stuff to each other, they won't even do the basic things to take care of themselves! "Do I have to use shampoo?" Are you kidding me? Is that a real question?


Finally, we reach the point, where we consider the final option.

Yes - the big one.

Take away their Christmas presents.

They certainly don't deserve it! They got plenty of stuff already. This is extra stuff. We all know there are plenty of deserving children that need it far more than them. Getting no presents would serve them right! That's what they get!

And it's true. They don't deserve a gift.

True today - and true over 2,000 years ago when a child was born in a manger in an obscure, third-rate town, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire.

We certainly didn't deserve this kind of gift from God. A gift of his only Son to save us from our own sin.

We were so tied up in our own sin that we could not save ourselves as hard as we tried. Even when we were sorry and promised never to do it again - we would.

We had become trapped in the second most powerful thing in the world - sin. It was like being caught in the gravity well of a Black Hole where even light cannot escape. We didn't have a chance.

We still don't.

And so we needed a savior. Some of us might not want to admit it but it's true. And we had tried the pretenders. Other people who promised that they knew the way through meditation, or pagan rites, or drugs or alcohol, or just through "self-help." A re-wrapping of the oldest lie of them all, "You would be like Gods." You can save yourself.

And none of it is true.

Sin is just too strong. The devil is too skilled - he's been at this too long and knows us too well. So, we find ourselves at the same spot over and over again - frustrated and ashamed and wondering how to get out of the hole we had dug ourselves into. As strong and as smart as we are, we are flawed and imperfect. We are sinners and needed someone to save us.

So, God sent His son.

Because the only thing more powerful than sin is God's love. Not our love because our love is imperfect and flawed because we are imperfect and flawed. But God's love is perfect and that is why He could be our life line - our savior. To save us from our sin and the death that is the price for sin.

But we don't deserve it. We still don't. I am a sinner. I am weak. I am undeserving.

All true. But think about this for a little bit.

Bethlehem. Beth Lehem literally means "House of Bread." Jesus is known as the Bread of Life and he was born in Beth Lehem. And after he was born, his mother Mary, wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. A manger is where you place the food for the animals to feed.

God sent his son as an offering - the perfect sacrifice.

God sent his only son to us to live, suffer, die at the cross, and rise again - not because we had earned it but because we could not save ourselves. When we are weak, God is strong. God seeks us out not because we are perfect but precisely because we are imperfect and lost.

The first gift of Christmas was by God himself. He gave of himself and his gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was wrinkled and pink.

We were awful. We still are. And He gave us gifts anyway. The grace of God is freely given to us and it is only up to us whether to receive it.

The greatest gift we can give our children and to each other is not found in a store or on the internet or wrapped in a bow. It is the gift of understanding, forgiveness, and grace that we can show each other. Not just the people we like, but all people - especially those that we don't like - that are least "deserving."

We may not be able to give perfect love - but we can let God's perfect love shine through us.

And for the children? Yes, we gave them their presents. But they better watch out next year!

Merry Christmas!


  1. Phil,
    That is wonderful. Thanks so much for always teaching me something new. I did not know the translation of Beth Lehem, and when we consider his place of rest the manger. It all sends us to the beauty of the Eucharist.

  2. Thanks Tami! We are thinking about you and your family this Christmas season. We pray for all of you every night.