For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading comics and listening to songs that imply we have to be nice if we want Santa to bring us gifts. If we’re naughty, we’ll get that lump of coal instead.
Some children may believe that, but parents know better. How many of us have actually withheld Christmas gifts just because our son or daughter was a terror all year?
The picture at the head of this post shows the Christmas I got my dollhouse. It was metal with a front door that opened, a doorbell that actually rang, and a stairway cut out at the top so that the dolls who lived there could move from one floor to the other without having to go through the open back. I also had plastic furniture sized just right. For my parents, it was an extravagance, as was the barn set given to one of my brothers. And we were not perfect children, so I’m sure we didn’t earn them.
That’s the point. The gifts we get from “Santa” are just that—gifts, not wages. Parents give their children gifts because they love them, not because the children earned them.
Our Father’s gift to us works the same way. We can’t earn our way into heaven. Salvation is a gift, given through the birth and death of God’s own Son.
That doesn’t mean the intended recipient always appreciates the gift. You may refuse those pink bunny pajamas from Aunt Clara even though they were given with love.* God allows us to reject His gift, too.
Don’t get me wrong. Just because there are no strings attached to a gift doesn’t mean it’s okay to be naughty. Children who know they are loved try to please their parents. Being children, they fail sometimes. Christians respond to God’s love by trying to serve him. Being sinners, we fail sometimes. But the act of trying is how we respond to the gift, not how we “earn” it.
This Christmas season, I pray that you will open the greatest gift of all.
* This is a reference from A Christmas Story. The analogy isn’t perfect since Ralphie’s parents made him accept the gift, but you get the point.