Summary: The joy of Christmas morning fades, but the joy of Christ’s second Advent will never diminish.
This week, I read an article in USA Today, in which various celebrities were asked to name their most memorable Christmas present. These were A-list celebrities; people with money and fame; people who can have pretty much anything they want. Catherine Zeta-Jones, for example. You may know her as the woman in those irritating cell phone commercials, where she snaps her fingers and everyone freezes. Now, this is an actress who gets around $7 million a picture. Her husband, Michael Douglas, gave her an engagement ring worth an estimated one-to-three million dollars. A ten-carat diamond. I imagine she’s received some pretty expensive and exotic gifts. And yet, her most memorable Christmas present was a pair of white roller skates that she got when she was nine years old. Another movie star quoted in the article, George Clooney, said this:
"I remember a bicycle when I was like 10 that was about the greatest thing I ever saw in my life. It took my breath away. When you’re a kid, coming down and underneath the tree there’s a bike . . . "
Have you seen those commercials for Lexus and Jaguar (or "Jag-u-ar" as they say it)? It’s Christmas morning. The man hands his wife the keys to a new car; she runs to open the door, and there it is, sitting in the driveway! A new luxury automobile, with a big red bow on top! She’s thrilled beyond words! And I’m saying, "yeah, right". They run these commercials during shows like "Everybody Loves Raymond", in between the ads for socket wrenches and video games. Now, I ask you, what percentage of the men who watch "Everybody Loves Raymond" can afford to buy their wives a $50 thousand dollar car for Christmas? It’s insane! I could maybe afford that little mahogany box that the Lexus keys come in, but a new car? They might as well suggest a Learjet as a Christmas present, or a helicopter, or a yacht. Or maybe a small island in the South Pacific. What are these people thinking?
Well, what they’re probably thinking is that we will want to be like the people in the commercial – wealthy, attractive, happy. And they’re thinking that in order to pursue that fantasy, a lot of people will be willing to take on a lot of debt. I expect they’re right. But the ironic thing is that the people who really can afford to buy a Lexus as a Christmas present – or a jet, or a helicopter, or a yacht –
those folks name a pair of skates or a bicycle as the best present they ever received. I’ll bet it’s the same with you. The most memorable gift you ever received probably wasn’t the most expensive. It might have been an electric train, or a dollhouse, or a chemistry set. Or a BB gun; maybe even a "Red Ryder Carbine Action Two-Hundred Shot Lightning Loader Range Model Air Rifle," like in the movie, "A Christmas Story". But for most of us, nothing will ever compare to the presents we received as children. As Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney have apparently learned, nothing money can buy will ever match the joy, and wonder, and excitement that we experienced as children, when we came down the stairs and saw, sitting under the tree, the one thing we wanted most in the whole world.
Why is that? Why is it that, as we grow older, we seem to lose that ability to rejoice over a gift, like a child does at Christmas? I think one reason is that, as we grow up, we learn a hard truth about gifts. Which is that they break. They get old and beat-up. They fail to live up to their promise. As the years pass, we find, over and over again, that they don’t really do for us what we thought they would. They don’t satisfy the deep longings of our heart. They may give us a great deal of pleasure. And for a time – for years, even – they may be everything we hoped for. But eventually, the appeal fades. The joy dissipates. We outgrow the bike. We finish all the experiments in the Science Kit. We get tired of practicing the guitar. We lose interest in building model airplanes. And we’re on to the next thing. But each time, we’re a little less hopeful and excited than we were before. The sense of anticipation isn’t quite as keen. Because in our heart of hearts, we know it won’t be enough to make us happy. Even if we get exactly what we thought we wanted, eventually we’ll be disappointed. And so a new car, even a Lexus, becomes just a means of transportation, a machine that has to be washed, and filled with gas, and taken to the dealer for maintenance. We may like the car very much; we’re glad to have it And we don’t really mind changing the oil. But it’s lost its ability to thrill us; it no longer has the capacity to fill us with joy. It’s not the "stuff that dreams are made of". It’s just a car.