2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


What Shall We Give The Children?

About this time, in many homes, in some even earlier, the ritual of making Christmas gift lists begins. I mean the kind of list of what we want for Christmas. We do it at our house. Everyone is expected to post or in some way publicize a list of "wants and wishes" so that the other gift givers will have some ideas about what to shop for.

It is an interesting exercise. It requires considerations that are varied. One knows not to put on her list something that is outrageously expensive and impossible for anyone to afford. Wishes must be within possibility of being available. If sizes are in order then they must be known. Sometimes, we even specify brand, color and retailer who sells it. Some times our lists include intangible matters like a new attitude or a planned event or special help with a project that requires assistance.

There is a psychological and emotional challenge to it all. It requires making oneself a bit vulnerable and in some sense we declare our neediness. There is always the possibility that we will not get what we want.

One year my wife posted a very skimpy list. She didn't seem to want anything. That irritated me because I was hard up for ideas so I said something like, "Come on and get with the season, don't be so depressed." Well, that triggered her annoyance and within a few minutes she slammed a magnet against the refrigerator door affixing a list that contained about ten items among which were, "a new Lincoln Continental, a fox fur coat, two weeks in Hawaii and a diamond bracelet." It was a memorable and edifying encounter.

What I want to emphasize today, is not what we want to give our children, or what I want them to get for Christmas. I want to emphasize what we want our children to receive from Christmas, from the experience of the celebration. I want to describe the religious, personal and theological realities which are the gifts that cannot be bought. I will say, “I” but I'm not talking about “we,” and in that regard, I want to emphasize that there's no such thing as a single parent. Every person on earth has two parents. You all do know that, that's just kind of one of the fundamental facts of life. Now granted, there are parents who are deceased, departed, absent, and divorced, and ways in which parents may not be present. But we all have two parents. Very often an absent parent, or a deceased parent can have more influence and power over a person's life, than one who is present. I just say that somewhat incidentally to emphasize that we all have two parents.

The thinking expressed here is generally shared by my wife, but I will simply say "I" because I am speaking my mind. This is what I want our children to receive from Christmas, and most emphatically and perhaps more importantly, it is what I would hope all children would receive from Christmas.

I want to describe twelve gifts. We all know that little carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." You know, "on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me," and then that incredibly useless array of gifts that my true love gives to me,… four maids a milking, ten kings a pumping," or whatever they are. The reason for that is that there are twelve days in Christmastide. Christmas begins Christmas day, and continues until the first day of Epiphany, January the 6th. Traditionally in old England you gave your loved ones a gift on each day of Christmastide. Here are the twelve gifts I would cherish our children receive from Christmas.

First of all I would want our children to know that I know that I do not own them. They do not belong to me. Our children belong fundamentally, and ultimately to God. We are the stewards of their life, their nurture, and their education and protection but we do not own them. I hope my children know that I know that I do not own them. We live together by choice. We share together out of desire and satisfaction.

The second gift I would want our children to receive from Christmas is to know that I give them my love, but I cannot give them my thoughts and my feelings, for they have their own thoughts, and their own feelings. They need an atmosphere in which in freedom and acceptance, their own feelings and thoughts may be nurtured, honored and expressed. Everyone has a right to their own feelings and thoughts.

The third gift I want them to receive from Christmas is, I want to give our children a relationship in which there is a fair and happy exchange of yesterday and tomorrow. For I own more of yesterday than they do, and they own more of tomorrow than I. If we can move gently between the two, we can avoid the cynicism and the bitterness that prompts angry outbursts like, "don't tell me anymore about the 'good ole days,"' and I should not say, "oh, I'm so fearful of the future." For each day, each of us gives up a piece of tomorrow, and life never waits for yesterday to return.

The fourth gift I would want our children to receive from Christmas, is love connected to courage. For they will navigate strange seas and cross unimagined boundaries, and they will glimpse new horizons which I have never seen, They will need large doses of courageous love. As with all these gifts, you cannot buy love and courage from Sears, or Spiegel, or Saks. Love without courage is wimpy. Courage without love is often brutal.

The fifth gift I would want them to receive from Christmas is a large dose of positive self esteem. Self esteem that gives them a great sense of self‑worth. I want them to live life with the conviction that they are of inestimable value, that there is no one more important than they are, and no one less important than they are. I want them to have self‑reliance, born of self‑worth and to extend for others the same gift.

The sixth gift I want our children to have is a sense of humor. For laughter and festivity leavens life, and it mutes the awful anxiety there is in self‑aggrandizement. Humor gives us fortitude against being buffeted about like balloons in the wind and most of the time when we feel life is buffeting us about, it is because our egos are over‑inflated like balloons. A sense of humor is the best way to deflate an over‑inflated ego. Now I don't want our children to be good at telling jokes, necessarily, but I want them to be able to laugh at their own dangerous pride. I want them to cherish the close kinship of humor with faith. For humor delights in life's contradictions and faith is inspired by life's paradoxes.

The seventh gift I would want for our children from Christmas is that I want them to expect and appreciate discipline. For life itself is disciplined and it is disciplining in all its limits, and all its fences. Now this is not an unquestioning or unresisting surrender to every boundary there is in life, and every stop sign. Sometimes we must fight against, and kick against life's boundaries until we know what the limits are that are just and fair.

The eighth gift is that I want our children to appreciate the gift of good work. For the lasting joy of having done work well, and earnestly, and effectively, is to have the inestimable asset of being known as a good, capable, loyal, and efficient worker. When they become that kind of worker, they will never be poor and seldom bored.

The ninth gift I want for our children is to see their mother and father make love. Now I don't mean boudoir frolics. I strive for them to see us as lovers who are constantly making ourselves vulnerable to each other. Sharing humor, small talk, minor affections, the light touch, deep eye contact, caring for each other in a way in which we are concerned to be around the house, endeavoring to enliven and quicken the other’s response. Since we have the situation of only daughters, I hope that our daughters have been able to see a little bit of what it's like to have a man around the house who cares. For those of you mothers who have sons, the same wish prevails.

Gift number ten, I want our children to know what is a fair judge. Children expect sternness. I think that children even want sternness at times. But what children cannot tolerate is unfairness. It is not work, or discipline that triggers anger, it is injustice. When we hear our children say, "It isn't fair" then we better listen.

The eleventh gift is that I want our children to experience my open delight in who they are as people. I want to speak their praises. I want to look at them with wide‑eyed wonder, for I shall never see the likes of them again. They are not like anyone else including their parents. It is only parental egotism that prompts us to say, "oh isn't he just like his daddy" I want to be their priest, in that I want to lift them up and offer them, and I want them to know that they are held lightly and lovingly by their mother and their father, and beheld with simple astonishment, and gratitude.

The last gift of Christmas, but it is really “The First,” but I simply decided to hold it to the end. I want our children to get from Christmas a personal experience of our savior Jesus Christ. Now some of you may be thinking, "well of course that's what he wants, that's his business. If he worked for an auto maker, he'd want a new Camaro, Mustang, or Daytona for his kids." Not so—I'd want this no matter what my vocational calling. For to know Jesus Christ as my personal savior, is to receive these previous eleven gifts.

To have a saving experience with Jesus the Christ is to have: knowledge of belonging to God and being loved, an accepted yesterday and open tomorrow, love and courage for living life, high‑esteem, humor that loves humility, an appreciation for human limits and fights, a love of justice, human demonstrations of lovingness, fair judgments and gratitude for one's unique life.

So, the first and last of all the gifts of Christmas is a meeting with the Christ. All these gifts flow from that. That's what I want our children to receive from Christmas. These gifts are a hope, a dream, a goal and with all of us, to some extent, an achievement. But the quest drives and lures us all our lives. All our gift giving and receiving is a symbol of this greater wish which is given to us by the free and loving hand of God. May it be the light and longing of the length of our days—for all our days.

 Merry Christmas!

Rev. DeForrest Wiksten THE PROTESTANT HOUR