Christmas has come and gone once more, and now the dawning of the New Year awaits. For children, it is so hard to let Christmas go as it fades in the rearview mirror. After all, there is so much anticipation and build up, they feel it is somehow wrong that the day can simply pass them by in the usual 24 hours. What’s more, the younger the child, the fewer the Christmases he or she has seen, so the rarer the spectacle and experience and the harder it is to believe that it will come round again. For us adults, Christmas has been coming and going, lo these many years, and the prospect that intervening time will fly away and Christmas once more be here is not so hard to believe – we’ve seen it happen, year after year after year.
And now, as “normal life” begins slowly to resume, we enter the season of running into our friends and acquaintances where we’ll undoubtedly engage in the usual post-Christmas small talk. We might ask about their trips or their families, if they traveled or gathered as part of their Christmas festivities. We might ask about time spent with kids, if they have collegiate children home on break. We might ask about all sorts of things, depending on the person, but one question that most will ask and be asked more than a few times, is “what did you get?”
Often the question is really a way of trying to ascertain if your Christmas was satisfactory. Was Santa good to you this year? In short, did you get what you want?
I’ve been thinking a bit about that question, and while I don’t want to dismiss it entirely, as I’m sure there is value in it somewhere, I’ve been struck by how much more important is the related question that we never ask, did you get what you need? No doubt, we don’t ask it because it is a trickier question. What I truly need is hard to quantify. You can’t slip grace into a stocking, or wrap humility with a big bow – or a small one, as I imagine humility isn’t a “big bow” kinda gift. Mercy, love, forgiveness, repentance, justice, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and joy are all likewise hard to package and distribute. So really, I understand why we don’t ask people if they got what they needed.
Let’s face it, many wouldn’t even understand the question. Having so much and truly needing so little, in the strictest material sense, they’d likely only be confused. For those who grasped that we have needs beyond the material basics of food and shelter and so forth, the question would come dangerously close to being an inquiry into their spiritual estate, and goodness knows we don’t want to do that. We’re so practiced at keeping even our friends and families at arms length on the things that matter while we chat and chat and chat about things of little consequence. Perhaps that’s another thing we should add to the list of things we need – the courage of true friendship, the ability to speak about the unspoken.
What’s perhaps most remarkable, is the gulf, seemingly fixed forever between the two domains of what we want and what we need. When you ask me what I want for Christmas, my mind doesn’t automatically go to the long list of needs above, but rather to gadgets and gizmos and other things that are ultimately of little worth to me or to my place in this world. And isn’t that, in the end, a tragedy all of its own.
Christmas is about the birth of a savior. I tried to express some of my thoughts about it last year in this post. Thank goodness that our savior knows without needing to be asked what we need, and thank goodness He is gentle and patient and kind already and so bears with our incessant obsessions with our various wants.
As time passes ever more rapidly, year after year, I am increasingly aware of what I need, and isn’t it strange that our celebration of Christmas, the time of year that should focus us more than any other on the true solution to our great problem, has evolved into one of the most successful diversions ever conceived, so that the season often comes and goes without our ever really giving it any thought. May this not be true of you, or of me, as we look past the wrapping paper of our daily life to examine what lies within and to contemplate the savior who came to save us from ourselves.