Summary: Like Joseph, we think we want freedom from embarassment, but we really want love. We think we want an ordinary life, but we really want to be special. We think we want a little support, but we get the presence of the Living God
What do you want for Christmas? I hope there’s somebody in your life who is asking that question. I am not one of those who thinks we should do away with gift-giving at Christmas. Yes, it gets out of hand. And yes, it’s very commercial. But still, gift-giving is a part of the joy of the season. Let’s not throw it away.
So, what do you want for Christmas? Those of a certain age can remember when the answer to that was framed in a silly song, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!” Remember that?! Sung by a six-year-old moppet trying to figure out what had become of her choppers. And you think pop music today is pointless? Hey, ours is the generation that spawned not only the “two front teeth” song, but also such inspirational wonders as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and that profoundly spiritual number, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”? You say they don’t write music like they used to? Let’s be glad they don’t!
But, now, really, what do you want for Christmas? I have never been good at answering that question. I have a hard time deciding what to ask for. Long about December 20th, despairing of any hints from me, my son and my daughter and my wife call each other up and ask, “What does dad want?” They cannot figure it out, because I don’t know myself what I want. You see, I was trained early on not to want things we couldn’t afford. I got introduced early to the peculiarities of Santa Claus’s budget, learning in my childhood that Santa’s budget was suspiciously similar to the finances of a postman trying to keep the house warm and put clothes on his growing boys. There were no frills in Santa’s budget! So I learned early not to want something that was out of reach anyway.
Thus, in answer to the question, what do I want for Christmas, one year I tried to go super-spiritual. I said to my family, don’t give me anything. There is nothing that I need and nothing that I want, so take what you would have spent on me and put it in the International Missions Offering. Just give it to missions, and I will be happy. Well, that was a struggle. First, they didn’t think I meant that. They know that sometimes we say things just to impress, but we don’t really mean them. And second, they felt that I had to have something to open, something under the tree. A slip of paper saying we gave a hundred dollars to missions just didn’t get it. No, they said, that’s what you say you want. But come on, what do you really want for Christmas?
Isn’t it true that what we think we want may not be what we really want? What we suppose we want at the moment may not be what we ultimately want. We may find out that down deep, beneath the surface, there is something we didn’t even know we wanted, but it is the best gift of all. Joseph found that out. Joseph, the husband of Mary, discovered that what he thought he wanted was not what he really wanted, nor was it what he got for that first Christmas. I
For one thing, Joseph thought he wanted to be rid of an embarrassing problem. He thought he wanted to be clear of something that was tarnishing his reputation. But Joseph found out that what he really wanted was to love and to be loved. All Joseph really wanted for Christmas was not a good reputation, but the love and companionship of someone he cherished.
What was embarrassing Joseph? A pregnant fiancé, and all the talk around town. What were they saying about him behind his back? Did they think him an idiot to believe this cockamamie story about a child of the Holy Spirit? Joseph had an embarrassing problem.
Now the Scripture puts a positive spin on this when it says that Joseph was a righteous man, unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace, and so he planned to dismiss her quietly. That’s the positive spin. But I cannot help but wonder whether much of his resolve to put Mary in the closet had to do with his own embarrassment. You know, we are complex creatures, and almost everything we do has mixed motives. Was he concerned about Mary, or was he more concerned about his own embarrassment?
Just as the business of giving and receiving has mixed motives in it. When we give a gift, it looks as though we want that certain someone to have what they want. But it’s more than that. It’s about our own feelings, isn’t it? When I give a gift, it’s about wanting to be accepted. When I give you something, I say, “I hope you will like it.” But what I really mean is, “Please tell me I have not done something off the wall, so embarrassing that it will crack my fragile ego.”