Christmas eve

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I’m 52 years old, but I remember well the Christmas eves of my childhood. Our grandpa spent the night with us, and he always slept on the couch in the living room. We needed him there to open the front door for Santa Claus.

Sure, Santa usually came down the chimney, but our fireplace was a fake one. We may have been young, but even we figured out there was no way for Santa to enter our house through that means.

Grandpa was also responsible for making sure Santa saw the milk and cookies we left for him in the kitchen. We always wondered if Grandpa actually ate the cookies, and he teased with us enough that we never really knew. I can’t remember all the gifts we received each year, but I vividly recall Grandpa’s delight in telling the stories of his encounters with Santa.

Seldom did we sleep deeply on Christmas Eve. I doubt we had “visions of sugar-plums” dancing in our heads, but I’m sure we had thoughts of Matchbox cars, army men, fishing gear, and bicycles—thoughts about “stuff.” I know we wondered just how early on Christmas morning we could head downstairs to the Christmas tree. Every Christmas Eve lasted only 24 hours, but the memories still linger for me now decades later.

After I became a follower of Christ at age 13, Christmas Eve took on new meaning. It was the reminder that God Himself had come to earth. He so loved us that he stepped into our story, paid the penalty for our wrong, and conquered death on our behalf. The Babe in Bethlehem would be the Teacher, the Healer, the crucified One, the Victor over death.

He would be my personal Savior—and suddenly the “stuff” of Christmas would lose some of its meaning. Living in the light of eternity does that, you know. The temporary things of this world lose their significance when we really know the God of Christmas.

I remember another Christmas Eve when I found myself sitting in traffic, stuck with others who had delayed their shopping until almost too late. While sitting in my car, I smelled a horrendous odor in the distance—so strong, in fact, that the stench worked its way through my closed car windows. What I could not see in the dark was a large garbage dump in the distance. Mounds of garbage piled high, and men working overtime continually dumped even more refuse on those piles.

The whole scene seemed odd, actually. Our cars lined up by the dozens, all of us on our way to buy “stuff”—stuff that would eventually wind up at the top of this same dump. We were spending temporary money to buy temporary stuff that would land on this temporary pile. And, frankly, most of us still do.

Please don’t hear me wrongly, though. I am not arguing against buying Christmas gifts. Christmas is indeed a time of giving. What I’m arguing for is making sure we keep our priorities straight.

Christmas is about God’s giving Himself as the present. It’s about remembering that the everlasting One gave all so we might live eternally with Him. It’s also about building memories with the people God graciously places in our lives. For me, the words of Michael Card beautifully capture these ideas:

“‘When God gives a gift, He wraps it in a person,’ Bill Lane [Card’s mentor] said. The true purpose of giving a gift is that in the giving, we give a part of ourselves. And so it is with God, the greatest of givers. The special people He gifts us with are another way He gives us Himself.”

This Christmas Eve, do give gifts. Even more importantly, though, be a gift to someone else. The “stuff” will all disappear, but the memories of life shared with others will last a lifetime.

Merry Christmas!

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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