What is the #1 question children are asked at this time of the year? Undoubtedly, it is this: "What is Santa Claus going to bring you for Christmas?" I understand that people are well-meaning when they ask my children this, but sometimes when I hear it, I have to grit my teeth so hard I think blood is going to flow out of my ears!
Don't get me wrong--we love presents at the Jarrell house! And although Jeff and I get all the credit for the gifts under the tree instead of Santa, our girls are otherwise remarkably similar to other children who are excited about Christmas. They circle every girl gift in the Target catalog (other catalogs are discreetly hidden in the recycle bin) and beg for toys advertised on TV. Many conversations center around their ever-growing Christmas gift list.
They shake presents to determine what might be inside. There is endless speculation about who will get a Rapunzel Barbie and who will receive Barbie at the beauty salon. They countdown the days until it's Christmas when they will FINALLY get to open their presents with unadulterated glee!
All this is fun!!! We believe that exchanging gifts is a symbol of God's gift of his Son. The memories we make on Christmas morning when the girls giddily rush down the stairs to open up their stocking and gifts is absolutely priceless.
But is "what are YOU going to be getting for Christmas?" the only question our children should be asked? Does this not feed right into their sense of entitlement and belief that the world revolves around them and that they are owed presents simply because they are totally awesome?
How about this one: "What are YOU giving Jesus for his birthday this year?" I think 99% of kids would look at any adult who asked them this a dumbfounded stare. This includes Mika and Macy, but we are working to change that.
We are trying to stress to the girls that since this is Jesus birthday, he should get some gifts that are meaningful to Him. When I asked the girls what they think Jesus would want for his birthday, they responded "worship and prayer." Actually, those are good answers that I hadn't really considered to be gifts to Jesus, but they most certainly are!
Regarding more "tangible" gifts for Jesus--those that can be touched and seen--our Savior has requested that we give to the least of these in his name. God's heartbeat for the poor, sick, orphans, outcasts, and oppressed can be found throughout scripture. The verses below demonstrate just how personally Jesus views our care and concern for others:
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" (Matthew 25:37-40)
So, we have told the girls that they will receive three presents under the tree plus a few things in their stocking (we also bought a Wii as a family gift). The rest of the money that we have available for Christmas will be spent to buy gifts for Jesus.
You may think that spending money for gifts on anyone other than themselves is a real bummer for children, but Mika and Macy have really been excited about our focus on Jesus' birthday gifts. As Macy puts it, "this makes my heart feel good!" (from the mouths of babes...)
We love the gift catalogs (available in an online format, but hard copies work best for children) put out by various organizations. For example, in the World Vision catalog, you can purchase chickens, pigs, and cows (or shares of an animal) to be given as a gift to a needy family in the developing world in honor of a friend, family member, or teacher. International Justice Mission puts out a catalog showing how a gift can help train an investigator, free a slave, or provide aftercare for exploited children. There are many worthy organizations; here are just a few: http://www.ijm.org/ http://www.worldvision.org/ http://www.mercycorps.org/ http://www.miraclefoundation.org/
Visiting a lonely shut-in, delivering a meal, baking cookies for the neighbors, sending a Christmas card crafted by your children to an overseas missionary, donating a toy to Toys for Tots, and collecting food for the local food pantry are also gifts Jesus would love to receive!
To assure that Mika and Macy do not forget the gifts our family has given to Jesus, we write them on a slip of paper and place them in a special box. After we unwrap presents on Christmas morning, we open the box and read the gifts we have given to the King.
Of course, number #1 on Jesus' gift list is the same year after year. He has given His life for you; have you given him your heart?"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
Have a blessed Christmas, everyone!