Christmas with Ann Voskamp: Whose Birthday Is It Really?

To get our hearts ready for Christ’s birth, Ann Voskamp is writing for us, celebrating the holiday that’s all about Jesus. Join us as we anticipate the coming of our savior.

It’s been over 10 years of nothing under the Christmas tree here.

Strange, the way children teach men.

It was dark, I do remember that. Bedtime. Smoothing back hair, kissing foreheads.

One round moon hanging large outside the window, an ornament dangling off stars, decorating the night.

I had gifts to wrap. So, pull up the blankets. Prayers. And then, when I’m at the door, one hand on the doorframe, resting in the light of the hallway, I turn to close the door a bit on the dark.

He stops me with just one question:

“What does Jesus get for His birthday?”

The words hung … strung me up.

I say the words into the black. Um … A cake? Our love?

I can hear him turn again in the bed, roll over on the pillow. Restless …

“But Mom … if we get wrapped presents for our birthdays, real sacrifices from people who love us—they gave up other things to give something to us—then why don’t we do that for Jesus’ birthday?”

I stand at the door looking into all that light cast down the hallway.

Why is the sky blue, why do we blink, how do clouds hold all that water, the children ask me a thousand questions and the world spins dizzy on a million questions I don’t know the answers to.

I stand in the dark, the light right there, and I grope for the answer that could change the world …

“Why don’t we give up things so we can give to Jesus for His birthday?”

Is it always this way, that a little child will lead them?

He was four or five that year, I can’t remember. I just know that now he’s fifteen and I stepped out into the light and we’ve done all the Christmases since his way, giving away. It’s not at all wrong to do it differently, but just for us… all the Christmas gifts—gifts for the Christ Child.

I shamefully confess I thought it would somehow make me sad. I am a very slow learner.

How could I have thought that only love under the tree would do anything but make our happiness flourish?

The Birthday Child tells us what He wants: Give to the least of these and you give to Me.

So this is how we do it: We pick out gifts from His gift catalogues—Compassion Catalog, Samaritan’s Purse Catalog, Partner’s International Catalog, World Vision Catalog, Gospel for Asia Catalog, Mennonite Central Committee Catalog.

It happens after breakfast, each day for the last two weeks of Advent, selecting one gift for He who is Christmas.

They flip pages, deciding on what to give Him today:
“Anyone think we should get a pair of rabbits today?”

“I was thinking mosquito nets. Two. I wouldn’t want to die of malaria.”

“If we buy a seed packet for a family, our gift is tripled.”

“Did you read the story on page 25 about what a difference it makes for an orphan family to have seeds? The little girl said, ‘Life is much better with food.’”

“Why are you crying, Mama?”

“Oh, just thinkinghow life really is much better with food …“

I’m sitting at the table with the kids all bent over The King’s Catalogues when I finally get what the kids already know:

I’d rather only fill a child’s tummy than fill my house with any more things.

Maybe that’s always the only choice we have to make every Christmas: feed our own fickle wishes or feed the real hunger of Christ?

Nothing can be claimed, taken, received, had; everything we have is gift to us from heaven. All that we have has no other source but the hand of God (John 3:27).

So “Christian hands never clasp and He doesn’t give us gifts for our gain because a gift can never stop being a gift—it is always meant to be given.”

When we pass our gifts on—the gifts from Him remaining a gift and being given again—we are the ones given even more of the source of all gifts—more of God Himself. Filled.

When we give to Christ in the hungry, He satisfies our own hunger pangs.

A decade of this, our little family turning the Christmas tree upside down and letting gifts all fall into the hands of the poor.

Some thought it too strange, all this with no bows under the tree and I really understood but we couldn’t stop seeing just this, Him hanging on a tree. It’s just the way He’s just spoken to us, that’s all.

And then yesterday, my dad, he stood in our kitchen. Stood with his hand on the counter, his farm coveralls still on, him just driving by, and he said it quiet, “I think this year—we shouldn’t do gifts as a family.”

He looked up at me. My eyebrows arched.

He understood?

“I was thinking that this year—maybe we should just all go together—and see if we can help drill a well in Africa.”

And that one boy now 15, who asked a question that answered everything—he turns to me and he smiles. His smile lighting the room and all the world.

Ann Voskamp
is a farmer’s wife, the home-educating mama to a half-dozen exuberant kids, and author of
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, a New York Times bestseller, and new this month, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Named by Christianity Today as one of 50 women most shaping culture and the church today, she’s a writer for DaySpring, a speaker with Women of Faith, and a global advocate for needy children with Compassion International. Ann loses library books, usually has a sink full of soaking pots, and sees empty laundry baskets rarer than a blue moon.

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