In the classic Charlie Brown special, Linus gives one of my favorite lines:
“Christmas has not only become too commercial, it’s become toooooo dangerous.”
One could be easily forgiven now for thinking about Christmas like Linus. If anything, “commercials” are much of what we remember about the holiday season in our Western, industrialized countries. For a good many Christians, and even a good many denominations, special care is given to guarding against falling trap to media-promulgated images of happiness, perfection, satisfaction, and consumption. And I’d argue Linus was right about the rest, too: there’s truly nothing more dangerous than what dupes a trusting conscience into inevitable despair.
But reflecting on the nature and spirit of Christmas ought to venture not just to the overtly religious themes, but the good “connection points” to be found in our culture – not just to the heart of our faith, but to ways the hands of our faith can be present, as well. And I think Christmas Lists are one of those things.
See, the nature of a list is that of something deliberately chosen. A child (or anyone with an Amazon Wishlist nowadays, I suppose) has to think over what they truly want. In this exercise, they are taught what it means to examine themselves (for how else would they know what they truly hope for?), and by necessity they have to make a decision that, if fulfilled, they will have to live with well after the fact. This last morsel of gained character is also known as “responsibility” or “consequence.” But perhaps the most positive aspect of a Christmas list is that of building a joyful expectation for what someone believes would be the best presents they’d ever receive. How is that in any way unlike the attitude we ought to cultivate in our souls for Jesus and his presence with us?
Perhaps the unchecked desire, the threat of materializing the holiday, the stress of having to be the “perfect parent,” and the misguided notion that gifts are a source of our communal worth are not so emotionally and psychologically profitable. However, the joy of a child, the discernment process, the character exercise, the guidance of a loving parent, the transparency created amongst a family, and the excited anticipation of receiving what we recognize and choose as our chief source of hope are certainly more than worth encouragement.
And if we’re truly searching ourselves, that hope doesn’t disappoint. If we’re honest, that hope is something God fulfills.