I heard the DJ’s on the radio the other day reporting on a study that said that our self-esteem rises slightly when we receive presents. However, the more we get, the less effect those gifts have on our self-esteem. Like a drug, we need more and more gifts (or more and more expensive gifts) to give us the same warm fuzzies and good feelings that we used to get from just one present. Parents and grandparents, this is what, in your generation, was referred to as “SPOILED.”
I was a spoiled kid. Maybe you were too. I have video evidence of just how spoiled I was. Picture it: Christmas (which, I’m fairly sure I thought was Kristmas) 1985. The year Rainbow Brite was the in-thing and my family had just got its first VCR not long before. It was time to open presents and all the kids sat encircling the tree, waiting. I got to open one of the first gifts, maybe the first one, and shouted, “Daddy! Thank you. It’s just what I always wanted. It’s great! It’s fabulous! I’ve always wanted one of these…. What is it?” Turns out, it was a Rainbow Brite VHS tape. The next thing I opened was just as fabulous. Just exactly what I always wanted, too, but I cannot recall what the second present was, or the 3rd, or the 4th. I only remember the first one because it’s on the video.
If “stuff” we receive increases our self-esteem, and then not receiving at the same level destroys our self-esteem, how do we find a balance? As my pastor put it yesterday in his Christmas Presence series, we have to stop seeking after those things that just give pleasure for a season. Instead, let’s look forward to those things that have lasting effects. I like choosing presents that people have told me they need or something really special that can be kept forever.
It’s more than just gifts, though. Hebrews 11:24-25 says “by faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” “Stuff” can only give pleasure for a short time and then it becomes a stumbling block, just as sin only provides pleasure for a time before it sends our lives into decay. We want to give good gifts to our friends and family, and avoid sin. Luckily for us, there is a model to follow.
Today is St. Nicolas Day, December 6. St. Nicolas took the call to sell his belongings and give to the poor seriously. He would toss bags of coins into the homes of poor families. Children would put their stockings on the window, hoping St. Nicolas would fill them. We take our modern Santa Claus from St. Nicolas. Santa Claus version 3rd century is a great example of eschewing pleasure for a season for pleasures eternal. His happiness stemmed from his giving to the poor and following Christ’s command. St. Nicolas gave in the Spirit and I’m sure the families who benefitted received in the same Spirit.
What are the best and worst gifts you’ve ever received for Christmas? What are the best and worst gifts you’ve ever given for Christmas?