Should we open our presents on Christmas Day?
No one asked this question during the panel discussion at the 2016 Always Reforming Conference, but two panelists decided to answer it, and though their disagreement was very civil, disagree they did. And because their disagreement was also illuminating we will share it below.
Let’s set the context first. The panel was asked about joy, and whether Christians could manage to misuse even joy. Can a man, for example, so enjoy his wife, that his enjoyment can cause him not to thank God, but forget Him?
Yes, the panel agreed, this was possible. But, they added, a more common danger in our circles might be harmful introspection. It is possible for a Christian to become so self-obsessed, so focused on navel-gazing, that we lose all joy in our lives. If we are always fearful about whether our joy is “pure” enough we can rob ourselves of the joy-giving gifts God showers on us.
And here is where the discussion turned to presents and when they should be opened.
DR. TIMOTHY EDWARDS:
Let [us] imagine this situation. It is Christmas Day, and I give my son a present. And for the rest of that day he’s sitting on my lap, or running around, saying, “Dad thank-you for that present, thank-you for that present, that’s just a great present, I just love that present, thank-you for that present. It’s so kind.” And he’s saying that all day, and the present lies there in the corner. I’m thinking “He doesn’t like the present.”
[But] if he says, “Thank-you for that present!” and spends the rest of the day just loving it, I’m thinking, “That’s a wonderful thing.”
So when I say, you enjoy Christ…it’s not simply a spiritual thing. When I’m eating a nice meal, and enjoying a fine wine, [then] I’m enjoying the gifts God has given me. When I’m loving my wife, when I’m playing with my children, when I’m studying a Hebrew text, or reading, doing some research and three hours goes by, these are gifts Christ has given me, and by enjoying them, Christ is looking down going, “That’s my boy. That’s what I want him to do.”
Now we all know there are people who have enjoyed the gifts so much they have forgotten the Giver.
But, again, if we are afraid of doing that, and therefore we never enjoy the gift, that’s a problem.
The Jewish rabbis say that when you stand before the judgment seat of God you will not only be judged for the wrong things you did, you will be judged for the good things you refused to enjoy. When I first heard that, I thought, “Oh my, there is a lot of truth in that!”
God has created this incredible world and He has given it to us, and He has given us Himself. And we are now able to, in Christ, to love Christ and enjoy His gifts to us. There are lots of gifts out there I would like to enjoy. Not for their own sake, but because they have been given to me, just like my son enjoying his present. And that is enjoying Christ.
I remember back in England we’d talk about celebrating Christmas, and there would always be this attempt to remember what it is about. Don’t get distracted by the presents, don’t get distracted by the turkey, and all the food, and don’t get distracted by all those things.
You are teaching people to sit there and feel sort of bad about the celebration, and constantly trying to remember, “Oh, it’s about Jesus, it’s about Jesus. I have to think about Jesus in my heart.”
When actually, celebrating something biblically, involves tearing the presents open, enjoying them, eating the food, drinking the wine, laughing around the table. And that’s rejoicing in the Lord.
DR. JASON VAN VLIET:
Aren’t you being a little bit too optimistic about the level of sanctification in our midst?
To make it practical, my wife and I have always separated the gift giving and the end of the year, from the actual day, Dec. 25th. We have a concern that if we start Dec. 25 with opening up all these presents, they may say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” and go off in a corner and just enjoy it, and that’s correct. [But] then we go off to church and the sermon is about the birth of Christ, and the blessings from that, and my nine-year-old boy is sitting there, and all he is thinking about is getting back to that LEGO set and finishing what he started.
Don’t we have to take measures that ensure [we don’t just focus on the gifts]? I don’t deny what you are saying – to enjoy the gifts the Giver has given is part of the joy – but we are still a long way off from full sanctification. So at certain times we have to take measures [like opening presents a different day] that are going to ensure that we don’t just focus on the gifts and forget about the Giver.
DR. TIMOTHY EDWARDS:
….One of my favorite passages – in Jewish it is called the second tithe – is Deuteronomy 14. If it was too long for you to go to Jerusalem [with all your tithed herds and flocks and grains then] you had to exchange it for money – take a percentage of your flocks and herds, sell it and take the money to Jerusalem. Verse 26 – this is a command:
“And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.”
So in the ordered, commanded, worship – Old Testament worship – probably three times a year, if they were obedient – [they had to] take a considerable sum of money, go to Jerusalem and party. And rejoice.
Now, there’s all sorts of dangers attached to that command. “You mean you want me to spend that much money?”
….There’s an element that…how will my children learn to rejoice in the good gifts that the God has given them, if I never give them an opportunity to enjoy the good gifts God has given them? If I’m always telling them, don’t trust that enjoyment…. Yes, my son might struggle on concentrating on the sermon because of the big pile of presents at home.….So I want to train them in that. I want them to think that as they are enjoying this gift they are enjoying something that God has given them. And when they enjoy that, it delights God. It’s a good thing. And I want him to know there are times when he will have [lost sight of the Giver and he will need] to repent at the end of the day.