When I was growing up, the Christmas present that I anticipated the most was a Sega Genesis. It was a brand new video game system at the time, and I wanted it more than anything else I could think of. I wrote letters to Santa Clause, I told everyone I knew that I was hoping to see it under the Christmas tree, and I even made sure I was extra good that year. And sure enough, on Christmas morning, I unwrapped the one I thought looked like it was about the right size, and there it was. I was thrilled.
I still have that old Sega Genesis. It’s in the basement of my parents’ house, in a box at the back of some closet, along with all the games I accrued over the years. I haven’t touched the thing or even looked at it in over a decade.
Sometimes I think, if I could go back and talk to my 8-year-old self, if I could convince that kid to ask for something else. How about a musical instrument? I know it would not have been as exciting to open up on Christmas morning. I know it would have taken a long time and lots of practice before I could even enjoy the instrument. But I guarantee you, it would not be wasted time. I would still play the instrument today. It wouldn’t be in the back of a closet collecting dust.
I think there are two ways we can look at Christmas. One is fun and easy. It’s a break from the boring routine, it provides a little bit of enjoyment for a short time, people get along and sing songs about peace on earth, and then everything goes back to normal. We put Christmas on the shelf until next year.
The other way is not as fun to open on Christmas morning, but it is a lot better. It isn’t covered in bows and wrapping paper. It doesn’t cost a lot of money, and it’s not the newest, coolest thing you could ever think to want. But the enjoyment lasts a lot longer. It doesn’t sit on the shelf collecting dust the rest of the year. In fact, every year it just gets better. It takes time and practice to really appreciate this kind of Christmas, but it is well worth it if you can bring yourself to ask for it.
To give you an idea what I’m talking about, let me tell you a story.
There was once a king who was in love with a peasant woman. He knew that if he came to her door dressed like a king, surrounded by servants and trumpets, fanfare, and the rest, she would be humiliated. She was poor, and she couldn’t entertain a king. She had no nice clothes, she didn’t know how to act at fancy banquets, but the king loved her.
So instead of coming to the door in his regalia and demanding her hand in marriage, he comes in disguise. He puts on the clothes of a peasant, he adopts a new way of speaking. He sacrifices his palace for a small shack. He takes a regular job and earns his living by the sweat of his brow. Then he takes all he has earned by his labor to buy that peasant woman an engagement ring.
But she has no idea that it is actually the king that is making this proposal. She has no idea that if she says “yes”, she will be the queen. And as the queen, she will have all the rights, dignity, and privileges afforded to royalty.
The king is taking a risk. If he had shown up with his entourage, how could she have said no? But he knows that her “yes” would have been the “yes” of a servant, not a friend. So he takes the risk. He comes looking like just another guy. There is nothing about him that should catch her attention.
Except the way he treats her. The way he talks to her. That he is a perfect gentlemen. He may look like a peasant, but he always acts like a king.
This is the story of Christmas. At Christmas, God is taking a risk. He comes to us in a way that seems pretty cute, but also pretty unremarkable. He doesn’t come in thunder and lightning, yelling at us from the clouds and telling us to love him. He shows how much he really loves us by giving us the option to reject him. He comes to our level, he knocks on our door in plain clothes, and God asks us for permission to be our friend.
What happened to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem all those years ago is absolutely the most amazing thing that could have ever happened anywhere ever. In Mary and Joseph, the human race held its Creator in its arms. The One who holds the entire universe in the palm of his hand, was cradled in our arms and laid in a crib.
We can choose the Sega Genesis, or the whatever, or we can choose this gift.
You’ll have the ribbons and bows either way. Santa Clause will come whether you give God permission or not. But if you choose Jesus Christ this Christmas, after the tree is out at the curb, and all the ornaments are put away, and things go back to normal, He will still be there.
Maybe this Christmas Jesus is trying to show you who he really is. Maybe he is showing you that this is not just a nice little story about shepherds and angels that we use as an excuse to give each other presents. Maybe God wants to show you that all this Catholic stuff you thought you knew about, or you were pretty sure was just ordinary religion, is something completely extraordinary. It will take you time and practice to appreciate just how extraordinary it is, but I promise you it’s worth it.