December 2011

“That’s for sharing!” We are decorating a house in Lancaster before putting it on the market, and Jen is taking the lead role in decoration, which explains why I was in Spar with Jen and Zach, buying lunch.  Seeing a special offer on ‘Cadbury’s Christmas wish star’ – 2 for £1 – I asked Jen if they were suitable.  Her eyes lit up – “They’re delicious!” – and Zach clearly agreed, having reached for one, and now clutching it with a huge smile.  “This one is for Zachie!” he declared. “So who’s this one for?” I asked, taking the second star and passing it to Jen.  “That’s for sharing!” came the reply, firmly.  “Who is sharing it?” I enquired.“ Mummy and Granddad”, and after a thoughtful pause, “and Zachie.”

“Let me get this right; this one is for Zach, and this one is for Mummy and Granddad and Zach?”  “Yes.”  “Does that seem fair to you?”  “Yes.”  Back at the house, Zach started his star after dinner, and Jen started hers.  Each star has a ‘wish’ on it, so Zach wanted to see Jen’s wish; he followed this by clearly demonstrating that he still thought that he was having one-and-a-share.  Jen made it very clear that one star was for Zach and one for Jen, and ended by pointing out that Granddad had no star, even though he paid for them.  Zach looked at me, said a small “Thank you, Granddad.”, studied his star, broke off a point,  and offered it to Granddad – who not being a chocoholic, was able to gently decline, allowing Zach to enjoy his whole star.  I looked at Jen, and she said, “This is going to appear in a magazine article, isn’t it?”

Zach had moved from being so involved in getting that he looked for one-and-a-share to being grateful for what he had been given that he was willing to give, leaving him with less than a star.  It is very easy to get so carried away with getting that we demand more, move from getting to taking, and don’t appreciate what we’ve got or who’s given it.  We’ve all had the experience of buying Christmas presents for children, to see them taken for granted and not appreciated.  Christmas can all too easily turn into a re-run of Dudley Dursley’s birthday (Harry Potter 1), where the number of presents matter more than the content.  Quite often, the joy of giving has evaporated as the whole process becomes a chore and an exercise in the self-centredness of getting.

Tragically, our conversion of Christmas into a celebration of consumerism is itself a metaphor for our response to God throughout the year.  The Christmas story celebrates the central character of God in sacrificial giving – “For God so loved the world that he gave…– a giving that was absolute, painful, personal “…his one and only Son…” a gift so full, so rich, so complete, that it brought an unimaginable joy and peace to anyone who accepted and valued the gift “…that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (The Bible, John 3.16)  First He gives us the world and all the good things of creation; then He gives us the greatest gift of all,His Son, to secure for us eternal life with Him.  Our response: we expect more and more for less and less, and while trying to get one-and-a-share, we even forget to say thank you!

Once Zach had pulled back from the escalator of desire, he demonstrated impeccably the right response.  Pausing, and then in the old words of wisdom, to count our blessings and accept what we’ve been given, rather than pining after more and more.  Remember to give thanks for the good things we enjoy – stop and say to our gracious God, “Thanks!” – and then, in the light of His grace-filled gift, to respond by giving back.  Zach had only what I had given him, and the point of the star he broke off and offered was a small part of the whole of my gift to him.  His freely offered fragment of the gift I had given him was wonderfully acceptable as a token of his love and gratitude.

Nothing we have has come from anywhere but the hand of God; can we not find time to break away from demanding one-and-a-share, and break off a small point of God’s goodness to offer with love and thanks – and in so doing, to find a more authentic picture of the spirit of Christmas, and the reason for our giving to each other.

Praying that this Christmas you may have the gratitude, born surveying God’s good provision, that leads to thanksgiving and service, and the joy of giving back to our gracious God a token of His goodness, and so find so much more than a child in a manger, even eternal life in Christ Jesus.

Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Simon Cox.