• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

What Do You Want for Christmas?

During my commute today, I listened to a lecture on CD by colleague Iain Provan, professor of Old Testament here at Regent, on the story of Jacob. That’s not a typical Advent story, of course, but it’s interesting to consider it in a Christmas context.

Brother Provan, superb expositor that he is, notes that God reiterates the Abrahamic promise to Jacob during Jacob’s famous dream of a ladder reaching to heaven: “the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring” (Genesis 28).

But when Jacob eventually responds to God’s extravagant promise, he mentions nothing about gaining an entire land, or having numberless offspring, or being a blessing to the whole world. Here’s what he says instead: “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.”

Provan points out the shocking disjunction between what Jacob wants and what God offers. And as I listened, I was suddenly struck by the shameful disjunction between my own paltry desires and God’s great promises.

I want the usual items on the North American middle-class list: economic security, a spacious home, a nice car, a pleasant vacation each year, career success, of course, and a few high-quality toys. Oh, yes: and good health, and peaceful sleep, and a happy family.

But God offers the following instead: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

That’s very kind of God, I acknowledge. But how about a Pioneer 60-inch high-def TV with 1080i fidelity and a Mackintosh surround sound audio system? That would be cool!

And God promises to conform me to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29).

I say thank-you to God for this lovely prospect. But then I reply, When will I be able to trade in my banged-up minivan for the Maserati or Aston Martin I’d prefer?

And God tells me that he has prepared a place for me in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21).

I sing a little song of praise to God about all that, because it does sound nice . . . and then I wonder when I can finally buy that half-timber-plus-fieldstone waterfront mansion I’ve always thought would be such a good home base from which I could serve the Lord even better.

And God gently asks if I am completely insane, utterly lacking in perspective, preferring the relatively trivial and ephemeral to the absolutely wonderful and eternal.

I stop and think: Yes, I am. My aspirations are pathetically low and my appreciation for what really counts is preposterously small. I am clearly deranged.

What I want to get is so much less than what God wants to give.

It’s time to make a new, different, better Christmas list…

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