You Better Watch Out

You know that Christmas song, “I’m getting nuttin’ for Christmas?” My son had one of those days today. It’s like the part of his brain that is designed to say “This is kind of a dumb idea” got unplugged so the part of his brain that is designed to say “I wonder what will happen if…” ran on high speed.

And all I wanted to do all day was threaten to return his Christmas presents. It’s been on the tip of my tongue, “You better watch out or there won’t be anything under that Christmas tree.”

I could set up a YouTube channel of the songs that warn kids to behave themselves or they won’t receive any presents on Christmas day. “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town… he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake!”

I’m all for good behavior. I want my kids to be kind and respectful, to think through their actions before they do them instead of after, to love each other and share their toys and be patient and eat their meals in a timely fashion. I want all of these things. I will threaten to take away electronics time, to send them to time-out, to take away Legos, to separate them until the conflict simmers down, but I will not threaten to take away Christmas.

Here’s why. The God I believe in loved me before I loved him. He gave me life and grace and freedom and forgiveness and redemption long before I ever blinked in his direction. The peace and joy and hope that are promised this time of year and all year round through Jesus Christ, God the Father and the Holy Spirit are unearned. They are gifts given whether I deserve them or not. They are gifts given because God loves us.

I give my kids presents at Christmas because I love them, because God loves me, because that gift of love that is remembered at this time of year through Jesus Christ’s birth is not intended to shape up the sorry sinner into a better behaved little boy; no, the gift of love we remember is the one that rests solely on grace, solely on the goodness and holiness and unconditional love of Christ that is given to make us holy.

I want to deny my son those presents. It would be a very effective threat… an empty threat, but effective nonetheless. Earned gifts make so much more sense than unearned gifts. The god with the scales weighing good deeds and bad makes way more rational sense than the Christ child. My God is baffling in his extension of grace and mercy, humbling in his constant reaching out to the lost and needy, overwhelmingly compassionate to the broken and world worn. If I am to be like Christ, then that’s the love and forgiveness I must strive for.

It’s impossible on my own. Oh, how I want to just snatch away that hope, threaten an empty Christmas tree to see him wriggle and worry over his behavior.

Really? Did I just say that out loud? He is seven (today it is Elvis, tomorrow it’ll be Henry, don’t worry, they take turns being jerks to each other); I am certain that he does not seek out to be bad. I am certain that part of his brain just doesn’t engage until he’s already in the midst of some impulsive “I wonder what would happen if…” moment.

We have to teach them everything. Everything. I have had to learn these things, too. Consequences to actions. Reward for hard work and good behavior. How to love well. How to receive love. Forgiveness. How to rely on someone else’s strength. How to believe. Permission to doubt.

And grace, outrageous, extravagant, mysterious, beautiful, amazing, unbelievable Christmas morning grace.

Why will my children receive presents on Christmas morning? Not because they were good or moderately good or kind of good or amazingly good. Only because we love them. Only because of Love. Oh, and also, we have a bad spending habit.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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