As I get older, Christmas continues to change.
When I was a youth, I remember being so excited when the Sears and Wards catalogues would arrive.
I don’t know how many times I would look through each of them with wide-eyed excitement. For toys, there was a rich feast of choices captured on those colorful slick pages. The hardest part for me was whittling down my initial wish list to something that was far more realistic for my parents to consider.
As Christmas drew near, I loved to watch the number of presents grow underneath the tree. It was easy to tell who wrapped them. Clues were provided through a quick examination of wrapping skills (or lack thereof) and penmanship on labels. In spite of the festive patterned paper, it was fairly easy to guess what certain gifts were. Others were near impossible to guess. I tended to spend more time attempting to discern the contents of certain packages over others; if I initially thought it contained clothes, little time was spent on it beyond that point in time. For me, there was little joy in unwrapping a new pair of socks or package of underwear. I would attempt to be outwardly polite and thankful about such things, but I doubt if I could completely disguise my true feelings.
In a few years, when I had an allowance, I began to purchase gifts for others. I discovered that it was not wise for someone my age to do last-minute shopping. My allowance simply didn’t go far enough. I needed to plan ahead well in advance.
One year, if memory serves, I began thinking about this in late summer and made my first purchase before the end of August.
As the years rolled on, I discovered that my thoughts surrounding gift-giving changed. I began caring far less about me receiving “stuff,” and enjoying more thrills over purchasing gifts for others. This is especially true when these items were not specifically requested and yet “spot-on.”
Our Christian walk can be a far richer experience when we move away from a self-centered focus, and gravitate toward giving more than receiving. This is especially effective when “surprises” are freely given; unexpected, joyfully unwrapped, “over-and-above” acts of kindness.
A maturing faith does exactly this.
Walter is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and has served as parish pastor for more than 25 years.