When I was a kid, Christmas was one long thrill. The interminably long wait from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Drawing names and having a gift exchange at school. The Saturday morning practices for the Sunday School Christmas program. The Christmas tree at home glopped with tinsel, and presents mysteriously appearing under it. Finally, finally Christmas Eve arrived. We dressed to the hilt, went to church, gave our program, and then drove home in a fever of excitement. I confess that the year I became aware of eschatology, I silently prayed in the car that Jesus would please not return before I got home to open my gifts.
There’s nothing like six kids ripping open packages, paper flying everywhere, and the shouts and squeals of glee. Thankfulness was everywhere, even from Mom, getting her umpteenth pencil holder (a painted tin can), or Dad, unwrapping his fifth Avon Soap-on-a-Rope from one of his junior high Sunday School students.
Decades later, I’m Christmas shopping for three grandsons. In keeping with the memories of joyful present opening, I’ve tried to pick gifts that will thrill their little hearts. Since none of my grandsons can read yet, although the four-year-old will tell you otherwise (he apparently memorized one of his favorite books, and now thinks reading is conquered), I’ll let you in on what I got them.
The four-year-old adores everything connected to pirates, so he’s getting a pirate ship, complete with pirates, a treasure chest, gold coins and appropriate weaponry. He loves dinosaurs, too, so I think he’ll be thrilled with the perfectly tacky, green, bumpy-skinned, dinosaur night light the size of a small dog, that my husband spotted at a garage sale.
The two-year-old is enamored with buses. He’s getting a toy bus with a driver and two passengers, leaving room for whatever else he wants to stuff in there. I think he’ll be thrilled. A second thrilling gift has yet to be purchased.
The fifteen-month-old is fascinated with bath toys. I got him a plastic frog that sticks to the side of the tub with suction cups. When you pour water into an opening at the top of the frog’s head, using one of the four stacking cups that come with it, it pours out of the frog’s mouth and turns the gears on the frog’s body. This boy is into flap books, as well. I found one featuring one-hundred photos of interest to toddlers, which will keep him thrilled for hours. Well okay, a few minutes. It will also keep his mother occupied taping back on all the flaps he tears off in his thrilled enthusiasm.
What does “thrilled” mean, anyway? It means to feel very excited or happy about something. It’s a feeling that’s hard for adults to capture in the everydayness of life, much less in this season of adding even more activities and responsibilities to our already overloaded lives. To be honest, Christmas isn’t the favorite season of my grown up self. I don’t like the depressingly short days, the sunless sky, or the loneliness of being far from family. These things hang over me like a cloud. I’m relieved when the whole thing is over and January shows its face.
But I want to be infused again with the wonder of what this season celebrates. The Advent devotional I’m reading this year gives a prescription for getting back the thrill:
“… be still and meditate on the Person of Jesus and all He has done for you. Think about His birth, His infancy, and the dawn of light rising over a dark and weary world. Think about His death and sacrifice, and the gift of life He extends to you. Meditate on His resurrection, His power over the darkness and the grave. Drink in His presence, and in the stillness seek His face. And think about His coming, the day you will see Him face to face” (Louie Giglio, An Advent Journey of Hope).
The almost unbearable joy and excitement I experienced as I waited for Christmas when I was a kid is really what I should be cultivating now as I ponder who Jesus is, what He’s done, my life with Him now, and what it will be like to finally see Him. It will be millions of times more wonderful than those long-ago Christmas Eves around the tree.
Jesus, in His incarnation, brought God Himself to be with us. He is the gift that keeps on giving, through all of life and forever after. So ponder. Meditate. Think. And be thrilled.