Money was so tight my freshman year in college that my family cancelled Christmas. We were struggling financially, and the three jobs my dad was working afforded him only four hours of sleep a night — with too little monetary margin to waste on presents.
When my parents told us there wouldn’t be any presents that year, my two younger sisters and I were unruffled. We were completely fine with a low-key Christmas. We’d each saved up a little bit of money to spend on Mom and Dad and each other, and that would be the extent of our gift-giving. But after all, presents aren’t what Christmas is all about, and we could still celebrate in our usual way.
Which is exactly what we did. We cracked open the special popcorn tin that was reserved for Christmas Eve. We munched away at the three different flavors of popcorn as we watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” –another one of our Christmas Eve traditions. Then, in a deviation from the norm (and because we weren’t planning to wake up early to open presents) my sisters and I stayed up late into the night, past midnight in fact, laughing and joking and giggling over who-knows-what.
When we finally went to bed, we slept hard. Then around 8 am my sisters called to me to get out of bed. “There are presents down here!” they said. But I didn’t believe them. (Also, I really like my sleep.) So I rolled over and told them I knew very well there were no presents down there and that they were just making it up to try to get me out of bed earlier than I wanted.
To which they replied: “We’re not making it up! There really are presents down here!” At this point I figured I wasn’t going to get them to be quiet and stop bothering me, so I slid out of bed and stumbled downstairs, fully expecting to see nothing but our decked-out tree. But to my surprise, I found our living room stuffed full of bags that were stuffed full of tissue paper. And inside those tissue-paper parcels were actual presents.
This all happened because, unbeknownst to us sisters, someone had anonymously gifted my family some money for Christmas. My sisters and I had woken the day before Christmas to find a note from our parents telling us they’d gone out for a few hours to “spend some time together”; what they were actually doing was last-minute Christmas shopping. And later that night, when Mom kept asking us if we were going to go to bed anytime soon, we just shrugged her off and kept right on giggling. We didn’t know she wanted us to disappear into our bedrooms so she and Dad could wrap those presents – er, stuff those bags.
That’s the story of the year God paid for Christmas. It was the year God gave us a gift just because. Not because we deserved it, not because He had to, but just because. And we’ve taken that story with us ever since; it’s become part of our family lore. It was a magical Christmas, and it wasn’t just because we encountered God as Jehoveh-Jireh, the Lord who provides. It was also because that was the year we learned we didn’t need presents at all, as long as we had each other (and our traditions).
So I call it the year God paid for Christmas, but I do realize the redundancy here, because God always pays for Christmas. He paid for the very first one, two thousand years ago in a little town called Bethlehem, in order that thirty-three years later, on a hill outside the holy city of Jerusalem, He could pay the price for each and every one of our sins. And we know that everything we have comes from Him, down to the very breath we breathe.
But on this particular Christmas, sixteen years ago now, Yahweh’s payment was extremely evident to us. It was clear that Christmas came from Him, not from us. It was clear the bounty we received wasn’t works-based; it was grace-based.
Do you have a story of God’s provision, financial or otherwise, at Christmastime?