Tantrums and Gifts

by Melissa DeGroot

Illustrations: background © Shutterstock,Inc; © jupiterimages.com

When I was a little girl, Santa Claus scared me. My parents recall that I never wanted to sit on his lap. They urged me to do so once at the mall when I was just four years old. I took one look at the jolly man in red and erupted in a fierce tantrum. That was the end of that.

Lest anyone suspect I was a super-pious, no-fun kid growing up, the tradition of getting presents (no matter whom they were from) was not lost on me. Every year I wrote my Christmas wish list. And every year, I would get a few things from the list. To my dismay, I’d always have to put “that pony” on the following year’s list. But growing up as a kid in the suburbs, I never did get that pony.

Looking back on this now as an adult, I wonder how much has really changed. Certainly, the wishes and desires are different. A pony has transitioned to wanting a new car, enough money, or a healthy baby and family. But the desires themselves haven’t changed. Even the tantrums—while more internal (and oh-so-adult)—still exist. When
we don’t get what we want, turning on other people, ourselves, and God is nothing new, no matter what age. We often think of God as a spiritual Santa Claus and thus limit Him and His abundant gifts.

So where does that leave us? Should we only ask God for the things that we need? Did the monks and nuns have it right in supposing we all just live in monasteries, as if our desires would somehow cease? Of course not. Further, God not only urges us to ask for things we want but to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). This includes all the thought, word, and deed trappings of our sinful natures. And truthfully (like American Express), we can’t leave prayer without it.

But there is good news! We are also bound to Christ.

Furthermore, the thing most needful in our lives is the thing we could not even ask for, no matter how hard we pray. We might think we are pious and holy for wanting Jesus and His gifts of Word and Sacrament. But if it weren’t precisely for these Means of Grace, we would never want them in the first place. God knows this, and thanks be to Him for endlessly revealing His love through these gifts.

Like the birth of our Lord that first Christmas night, God comes to us even now, when we aren’t wanting or expecting Him. He takes the ordinary things of this life (a baby, bread, wine, water), and when they are combined with His Word, extraordinary, eternal things take place for our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. Not only that, but He gives us abundantly more than just Himself: He gives us all that we need to support this body and life. Maybe even ponies.

While it might seem unfair that some people have more than others, God gives us exactly what we need. Can we accept that answer? In sin, no. But in Christ, certainly.

As we sing the Gloria this season—“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth”—we participate in a foretaste of the heavenly choirs, where the angels welcomed Jesus, the Giver of all good gifts, into the world. As baptized believers, we are assured that God continually strengthens and renews us in the gift of faith in His Son and in love toward one another this Christmas.

About the Author: Deaconess Melissa DeGroot is a member of Pinnacle Lutheran Church, Rochester, N.Y.

December 2010

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