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Christmas Presents (Presence?)

I have to be honest. Christmas can be a trying time for me. Not because I have a long list of gifts to buy or parties to go to, though I do. Not because my kids have a dozen different holiday-related projects or activities, though they do. Not because the house has to be cleaned and decorated and cleaned again, though it does.

No, Christmas can be trying for me because I am a pastor. During the season of Advent, I feel like I’m fighting this great battle with the Christmas Juggernaut. (To make sure I was using that word “juggernaut” right, I looked it up and found this definition: “any large, overpowering, destructive force or object, as war, a giant battleship, or a powerful football team.” Yep. Sounds about right.) But in these weeks I feel as if I’m struggling to keep at bay all the commercialism and materialism that distract us from the good news of the Incarnation. I feel like I’m trying to guard a little outpost of serenity in the midst of a culture gone crazy.

Honestly, I can get a bit Scrooge-ish during these last few days of the season. Tired of the “Chestnuts Roasting” and the Cool Springs traffic, I find myself saying “humbug” to the whole scene. I want to shout, “This is not what it’s all about! Is Christ really in any of this?” And I begin to long for January.

I was in such a mood yesterday, when something unexpected happened. After the kids went to bed, David and I decided to wrap a couple of their presents and put them under the tree. In the morning as I was making my breakfast in the kitchen, I heard the familiar pad of little feet making their way into the living room. Then I heard the squeals of delight: “There’s a present with my name on it! What is it? Can I shake it?”

Seeing their delight turned my Scrooge-ish, Grinch-ish heart into jelly. At the core of their excitement, I think, was not materialism or consumerism. Though I’m sure they’re excited about getting new toys, I think it was more than that. They just seemed excited to see their name on a gift. There were gifts for them, picked out and wrapped in love especially for them.

Then it occurred to me. Their excitement and joy is a glimpse of the kingdom of God. Something about their anticipation is related to the waiting and hoping we do in Advent. We are waiting for this gift that God is giving to us. It is a gift that has our names on it. And it is given to us in love, not because we deserve it or have asked for it, but because God loves us. Just as we are.

Hmm. God loves us just as we are, which means Jesus came into this world just as it is. With all our materialism and distraction and selfishness and greed and wrong-headedness, Jesus came. Jesus didn’t wait until the world was ready. Today, Jesus doesn’t wait until we’ve removed all distractions and gotten our priorities straight. Jesus doesn’t wait until the traffic dies down and the chestnuts stop roasting. Jesus comes now. Jesus comes here. Jesus comes in the midst of this messy, noisy world. May we receive that gift with childlike joy!