free web stats Lost in the Eternity of the Here and Now: Christmas for the kids destroys Christmas
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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Christmas for the kids destroys Christmas

How many times can you recall hearing people say that Christmas is for the kids? What they mean is that Christmas holds the most meaning for them as they watch their kids open presents, the gifts that they worked so hard to provide. The glow in the child's eyes as he eagerly rips away the festive gift wrap. The wonder as he tries to piece together what treasure he is about to discover, trying to glimpse his trophy through the exposed tears in the paper. The excitement is palpable; intoxicating. Parents wait an entire year to see this kind of excitement and feel joy knowing that they are the cause. Their hard work has paid off; their child is happy. However, when this goal becomes the goal, while seemingly noble and selfless, it destroys Christmas for both parent and child.

This emphasis on the presents gives children the wrong idea. Even in a Christian home where the Christmas story is believed, and sometimes even talked about, in practice the story takes second chair to the gifts; at least in the mind of the child. Let's be honest, kids do not care about Bible stories. They care about those brightly wrapped gifts sitting under the tree. Children are the most accurate picture of the heart of men, uncorrupted by age and custom, greedy and self-centered in a purely raw way. By allowing this continued focus on gifts, even in light of "God's gift," we reenforce this greediness. Children learn by observation, therefore it is paramount that children observe correct behavior. Solomon writes, "Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) Customs a child learns through observation, whether explicitly taught or not, can and do imprint them for life. The child learns what Christmas is at an early age, and that expectation remains for his entire life. It may manifest in different ways, but the underlying structure is formed very early in life. The focus of the parents becomes the focus of the child. One of the reasons that God instituted custom was for teaching children. Moses writes, "And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, 'What is this?' then you shall say to him, 'With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery." (Exodus 13:14) The focus in these traditions remains on God, prompting the child to inquire as to the meaning of the tradition. The focus in gift giving becomes the gift and the satisfaction of self. The child's focus is turned inward to himself rather than outward toward God. The result is that God is forgetten, as will soon be the gifts that brought such elation only moments before. The let-down of the aftermath leaves everyone worse than before, proving the depth of the vanity when the focus becomes the gift. At a recent Christmas party a child's parents relayed the cute story of their child on Christmas morning. Upon seeing the presents under the tree, he screamed in delight, "Santa brought Christmas!" When adults came later that day, he asked each one, "did you bring Christmas?" While certainly endearing, I fear this illustrates my point. The child, at a very early age, has already associated the meaning of Christmas with getting and giving presents. While the child cannot yet articulate the words or thoughts to convey the hollowness of the expression, he already displays the behavior of the vanity. The old toys, as wonderful as they are, leave him wanting more. The emphasis is not on the present itself even, but the act of getting a present. Once it has been had, in order to recreate the sensation, he must move on to new acquisitions, not for the sake of the object he wishes to acquire, but because he has been conditioned to relish the acquisition for acquisition's sake. Thus the beginning of a new little consumer.

The problem propagates from one generation to the next in a seemingly endless cycle. The consumer grows, each year the behavior reinforced, until the child reaches adulthood. Now being the adult, knowing that Christmas is for the kids, he starts the process all over of slowly molding his child into his own image. It's not that people do it consciously, trying to destroy their kids. It's what they have always known and have never stopped a moment to consider the why, as if the why were not important. I always dread going Christmas shopping, getting out among the crowds, the mindless throng of the intellectual wastelands. The adult Christmas consumers are angry, stressed out, and singular in their focus. They look forward to propagating their consumer philosophy, but despise having to go about the actions to make it happen. Just take a moment to look at peoples' faces in the malls, at the Walmart. They feel no joy. They are oppressed by the false sense of purpose demanded by their corrupt construct. The hopelessness apparent on their faces is the exact reflection of their souls as their futile attempts to regain that sensation they were conditioned to desire proves illusory, leaving them empty just like the child after Christmas morning is over, wracked by an inexplicable hollowness that they are still unable to articulate or understand. (See my thoughts from two years ago.) Glenn Beck recently told a story of how he wanted to do one Christmas all out, you know, for the kids. He and his wife went overboard, buying everything their children had wanted. At the end he said they all felt dirty, cheap. They had defiled Christmas but couldn't understand how. That is, until they realized what they had done by focusing on the presents, by making Christmas "about the kids." The problem is that most people never come to this point and are never able to put it into words, so they can never address the real problem. We try to recreate that sensation we had as children in our own children which leaves us feeling cheap, and the children feeling unfulfilled. The focus has shifted from God, to the children, to the gift, to the act of getting the gift.

The focus of Christmas is where the problem lies, and from where the solution comes. Jesus warned his disciples that they could not serve God and wealth, or literally, the personified master of wealth, Mammon. Yet, as Christians in the western world, where the pursuit of happiness has been corrupted to mean the pursuit of wealth (which promises happiness), our focus is difficult to maintain. We are bombarded through culture, media, and even language, to focus on wealth. If there were any general truth in the Bible more applicable to twenty-first century people, I cannot think of one. You cannot serve both God and Mammon. We, Western Christians, have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of the created. Our god is no longer the God of Abraham, the father of Jesus, the one reconciling the world to himself through the work of his son. No, our god is Mammon. Not by our profession of belief, but by the profession of our actions. This is a personal problem. This is a family problem. Our families need us. I'm not talking about your heathen in-laws. I'm talking about your Christian family. If we are not careful, we will inadvertently teach our children to worship at the altar of Mammon. We will create another generation of hypocrites who worship God with their mouths while their hearts are far from him, for their hearts belong to Mammon. It is the love of money that is the root of all (kinds of) evil. I cannot overemphasize the importance of our focus during Christmas. The enemy of Christmas that we hear from our Christian brothers every year, how they hate how materialistic the season has become, is not secular culture, the media, or the stores hawking their wares with festive jingles. No, the true enemy of Christmas is us, those who claim to know the truth, but practice a different truth in our lives. The focus must not be on the kids, lest we continue the cycle. The focus must be entirely on God. What does this look like? Spend those extra hours with your kids, those hours you would spend working overtime to buy your kids some useless piece of trash. Read the Christmas story to them every night for two weeks, each night focusing on a different aspect of the story. Spend time with them decorating, cooking, living life with them. Serve with them, helping them to find satisfaction and joy in serving others. Go to a soup kitchen, work with the unfortunate. But most importantly, spend that time showing them what presents never can, that Christmas is not about them, not about presents. Christmas is about God. Anything else is a shame and destroys Christmas.

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