It’s December 1st, and last Friday was Black Friday, which probably means your Christmas shopping is in full swing. If you’ve lived in the Evangelical world for any number of Christmases, you have probably run into many different methodologies when it comes to giving Christmas gifts–especially to your kids. The next generation of Christian parents are very concerned with the materialism that seems to abound during the holiday season, the discontentment that spreads like gangrene, and the ‘wantsies’ (as my wife puts it) that are encouraged by effective advertising.
Curb Your [Christmas-Spending] Enthusiasm.
In America, Christmas is a time where you overspend your means and rack up a huge amount of debt trying to help your kids keep up with the Joneses’ kids. Many Christian parents are understandably bucking this trend. Stephanie at Keeper of the Home advocates giving gifts based upon the three gifts of the Magi: Gold (something valuable), Frankincense (something spiritual), and Myrrh (something for the body). A host of blogs recommend the four gift system: Want, Need, Wear, Read.
Christian families are recognizing that “Well, everyone else is spending tons of cash at Christmas” is not a good reason to load a mountain of presents under the Christmas tree. The intentionality that many parents are beginning to pour into their gift giving is commendable, and in many ways the true importance of Christ’s incarnation is slowly regaining its rightful place in the Advent season as parents correct the over-emphasis on presents at Christmas.
Are You a Grinch?
However, as with any counter-cultural trend, there is always a danger of over-correcting the ship. Steering away from Charybdis, we have to make sure we don’t get swallowed by Scylla. As Christians violently react against the materialism that has overwhelmed Christmas, the tendency can be toward cheap frugality at Christmas. The mindset can become, “How can I spend the least this Christmas?” or “What is the least I can get away with giving this Christmas?” In the desire to resist overspending, the game becomes seeking to spend as little as possible.
Whereas the overspending parents take Christmas gift-giving for granted and simply load on the presents, the zero-spending parents take Christmas gift-giving for granted and just want to “get it over with.” Both perspectives treat Christmas gifts as mere fact of holiday life. Neither the mindless over-spender nor the intentional under-spender is helping his kids, family, and loved ones to see the beauty of the Gospel and the graciousness of the God he claims to worship.
…Or Are You a Gracious?
As a Christian father, I see it as my duty to represent God the Father to my kids. I would dare say a word we would most readily use to describe our Heavenly Father is gracious–meaning that He showers His undeserved favor on us, His children. We don’t earn it; He just pours it on: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Or what about Jesus’ point in Matthew 7? If we know not to give our kids snakes when they ask for fish, “how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” I could go on and on cataloging all of the ways our Heavenly Father lavishes his gracious mercies on us day after day.
Sometimes I think Christian parents slip into the mindset that our kids must always see that they get what they deserve. When they sin, they get their just punishment. When they act rightly, they get their just reward. If this is your whole parenting system, then it has no Gospel–and it has no category for Christmas gifts. We can become so focused on making sure our kids recognize that sin has consequences that we forget that God’s grace meets us “while we are yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). Where is the grace in your gift-giving? Where is your exorbitant favor toward sinful children? Where is the smile of the Father over his rebellious and completely undeserving sons and daughters?
How does your gift-giving demonstrate the gracious Gospel?
The way you give to your children this Christmas can provide them with a tangible picture of our Heavenly Father “[who] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). The Incarnation is the most mysterious, unimaginable and gracious gift the Father could ever give. Shouldn’t your children get a little taste of that in your gift-giving this Christmas?
This Christmas, think about how your gift-giving can showing your children that God is not simply a just God, but that He is just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). He graciously sent His Son to satisfy His own standards so that we might be reconciled through His death. God is not a stingy God. His grace is wasteful. He pours out his gracious gifts on rebellious children who deserve nothing. Don’t allow your aspirations toward frugality to rob you of an amazing opportunity to show your children that Christmas is a demonstration of God’s abundant grace. For, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).