Lemme preface this by saying that A Christmas Story is, quite possibly, my favorite Christmas movie of all time. Not only is it hilarious, but it’s fun for the whole family AND it’s infinitely quotable, even through the more non-Christmasy times of the year. My loving — and patient — wife can attest to that.
That said, there’s a certain sad truth that the movie illustrates all too perfectly. We all know the story — with Christmas just around the corner, our hero Ralphie plots and plans and schemes his way toward a “Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with the compass in the stock and this thing which tells time”, only to be shut down with myriad warnings that he’ll shoot his eye out. Nevertheless, he presses forward, and eventually wins the day. The movie closes with him clutching the BB gun tightly as he drifts off to dream, “pranging ducks on the wing and getting off spectacular hip shots.”
What is missed in all this is the entire reason that he even has that gun — not his plots or his schemes, but the graciousness of The Old Man.
Year after year, I find myself on Facebook, referencing the oft-forgotten meaning of Christmas via Linus Van Pelt and his recitation of Luke 2. It remains the longest portion of the Bible that I can quote by heart — again, courtesy of Linus. On its face, it would seem that the miracle of Christmas is the gift that we were given: our Savior. It makes sense, and even the majority of Christians see it this way. But they would be wrong. Rather, the miracle of Christmas is the GIVER of that gift — a God that loved us enough, in spite of everything that we are and do, that He gave His only begotten Son to be our redemption.
Now, this may seem like splitting hairs to you — especially since the Giver and the gift are one and the same God — but to me, there is a distinct difference between the two. See, if the meaning of Christmas is bound up in the gift of Christ, then Christmas is all about those of us who receive that gift. But if the meaning of Christmas is bound up in the GIVER of Christ, then Christmas is all about the God that gave that gift.
To offer a similar illustration… remember the ten lepers that came to Jesus looking for healing? Jesus never touched them, but even so, sent them away to show themselves to the priest as if they had already been healed. Without having received their healing, they still turned to obey. At that first step of obedience, they received their healing. The they rushed off to the priest to do what they had started to do in the first place, shouting for joy.
All except one. This leper stopped in his tracks, turned to face Jesus, and praised God for the healing. Note the difference. All ten lepers received the gift, but only ONE of the lepers praised the Giver. Scripture tells us that Jesus singled that man out, in that while the others had been made “clean”, this one had been made “whole”.
This is what A Christmas Story demonstrates to me — what Christmas has REALLY lost. True, Christmas has been bound up in commercialism for a long time, and there’ve been attempts to “put the Christ back into Christmas”, but even that ultimately makes Christmas about the gift — and by extension, the one who receives the gift — rather than the Giver.
Acts 20:35 tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive… why? Because receiving makes it about you. Giving makes it about them. When God gave Christ, He made it about us. Our knee-jerk reaction is to focus on our having received Christ, but in doing so, we CONTINUE making it about us rather than RETURNING honor again to God and making it once more about Him. However, when we praise God for the gift of God the Son, we’re not merely receiving the gift — we’re GIVING, as God gave to us. Just as God made it about us, we are likewise making it about Him.
That is, more than the focus on Christ Himself, what Christmas has lost over the years — the giving. While Ralphie getting his Red Ryder makes for a fitting ending to the story, Ralphie nevertheless gives all honor to his gift, and none (or far less) to the giver. In receiving his gift, he has made Christmas all about him… and missed the point of Christmas entirely.