Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:16-18
Here is the last installment of the series about preparing for the holiday season. Let's focus now on the attitude of the recipients of gifts. Christmas has become a season all about children. Culturally, Christmas is an exercise in benevolent escapism. This escapism is possible because children tend to trust their parents' view of reality. This is appropriate—as long as children are dependent upon their home for shelter, food and relationships, home is the center of their universe. Children are supposed to trust their parents. (As an aside, this reality is why following the direction of Deuteronomy 6 is so crucial. God designed this time of dependence so that parents can provide a biblical, truthful framework of how the world works—that is, everything is in the control of our sovereign Lord, and all are accountable to him.) So parents have, for good or ill, the opportunity to powerfully shape the thoughts of their children in early life. This means that the attitude with which children receive gifts is largely framed by the parents, with a powerful assist from the flesh.
Okay, so how does all of this relate to gift giving and escapism? Let me answer with another question. Culturally speaking, where do gifts come from at Christmas? That’s right, from a jolly, plump fellow in a red suit who drives an airborne sleigh pulled by eight caribou that can be tracked by excited weather persons on live Doppler radar. Would you give this explanation for the sudden appearance of gifts under a tree to adults? Probably not. But children—that's a different story. If mom and dad and Bob the weather person say it's true, it must be true. This truth is then confirmed by the brightly wrapped presents that appear under the tree.
Our culture buys into this. We all want something better than what we know we deserve. So for a few weeks each year most of our world collectively journeys into a world that does not exist. We want to believe in something better than greed and selfishness. As humans, we need to hope in something better than ourselves. But, as Romans 1 says, by our very nature we actively suppress that this hope can be met in God. So we create an alternative universe where gifts are dispensed without regard to the worship of God. We create the cultural phenomenon now known as the holiday season. This represents an escape from the real world, where God is the only true giver of good gifts. Christmas is often the occasion of attempts to produce atonement and redemption through gifts, but these attempts may actually bring more disillusionment, because such things do not satisfy.
Your children are impacted by this cultural escapism to some degree. If you are to teach your children to receive gifts biblically, you must first teach them to understand that all good things come from God (James 1:16-18). This is true even for those who do not worship the God of the Bible (Acts 14:17). Good gifts come only from God. Gifts are not to be expected or demanded. God gives gifts because he is gracious. Therefore, we should receive them that way. But children are not neutral with regard to gift giving. They are born believing that they deserve whatever they can imagine. The escapist culture of the holidays reinforces this. If your children’s perspective about receiving gifts is to change, it must start with you. Parents, you must examine yourselves to see how much of this cultural view of gift giving has influenced you. Your children’s understanding of receiving gifts is a reflection of what you have taught them about receiving gifts.
If you have looked at giving gifts as a way of achieving temporal redemption for your failures, you have passed this on to your children. They will then expect you to make up for your poor behavior with gifts. This leads only to frustration and dissatisfaction. Help your children to see gifts as good things from God that come from his mercy, not as reward or penance.
As Luke 11 indicates, we delight in giving gifts to our children. This is good and proper. But we must not lose the biblical focus that James teaches – good gifts flow from God. Gifts are to be a picture of the wonderful, unmerited gifts lavished upon us by God. Teach your children to receive them in this spirit. For your part, don’t attempt to make your gift giving more or less than what God intends. Delight in bringing joy to your children as God delights in bringing joy to you. This joy is not dependent upon on the dollar value of the gift or the quantity of the gifts. It is a joy that cannot be confined to a season.
I pray that this series has been helpful to you. You have a powerful opportunity to present the wonderful mercies of God in this upcoming holiday season. As Paul says to Timothy, teach your children to take hold of life that is truly life.