Well, Christmas morning approached and there was no improvement in our behavior. So, when we woke up on Christmas morning and went out to the Christmas tree, all that we found underneath was a pile of broken and old toys with a note that said something to the effect of, "You've been naughty, and here's what you get!"
Needless to say, we were devastated. Me being the younger of the two of us, I think that I was probably more so. I remember whining and crying and trying to convince my parents that this was unfair and unjust (trying to capitalize on the biblical notion of justice). Finally, after my parents had felt that their point had been sufficiently made, they went to a closet and pulled out all of the "real" presents. We were overjoyed with this gracious act, telling our parents that we knew all along that they would never do this to us, while secretly taking in a deep sigh of relief.
My parents just sent me a bunch of pictures from that Christmas and the one here shows my brother and me in our state of dismay and disbelief, me wiping the tears from my eyes. The funny thing is, I had just recounted the story to some people at our work Christmas party the week before. It has always stayed with me.
Now, parenting experts may call the exercise cruel and unjust, some people may think that it was harsh, and to be frank, I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about it. My leaning is towards the fact that my parents showed my brother and I an incredible amount of grace. What we deserved, based on our actions and behavior, was the broken toys. What they gave us were the presents that showed that despite our imperfections, they loved us.
I didn't have to go through years of counseling to get over this and yet I still remember the Christmas vividly. In a lot of ways, I can't help but connect what my parents did to what God did for us when he send Jesus to the world. The history of God's people is full of stubborn and obstinate people who thought that regardless of their behavior, a loving God would never turn his back on them and would never mete out justice on them. They were right, but someone still had to pay the price. That someone was Jesus. He is the gift of grace that God gave to us. When we deserved nothing but "broken and old toys" God gave us the best thing that he had to offer: his only son.
As I raise my boys, I hope and pray that I can instill in them the fact that Christmas isn't about getting what we deserve, it's about receiving the gift of grace from God. Christmas isn't about all the commercialism that is preached at us from Black Friday on, it's the realization that no gift could ever compare to what we receive in and through Christ.
May we come to the realization that the best thing that we can get and give is the news of this gift of grace. May our hearts always be reminded of what we deserve and be thankful of what we receive instead through grace.