As Christmas arrives this week let’s picture a sweet six-year-old child who is enjoying the big day. When she’s asked, “So, dear, what would you like for Christmas?” she’s likely to respond with our title phrase.
What are the chances this will surprise her parents? The “What I really want …” response will almost always have been settled beforehand. How? By the marketing skills of those who created the media that capture six-year-old hearts. And before going out to shop for the gift her parents will have discovered which marketing campaign worked best.
I don’t mean to sound like a Grinch: this sort of thing has been going on forever and we’ve all enjoyed it. There’s a real pleasure in giving a child something he or she “really” wants. Even if the parents know the item will be abandoned in the corner of the toy closet a month later. The Christmas moment of pleasure—“joy”—is the real draw.
But the tradition of gifting calls for some reflection. The language of “what I want” points to the affective basis of life. We always seek what we “want.” Or, in different terms, we pursue our values. And these values guide us—whether it’s a mother saying to a young son, “I want you to finish your breakfast,” or an employer warning, “I want you to reach your quarterly target … or else!”
The language of “what I want” is so common we’re now deaf to it. And blind to the heart-based—“affective”—system that underlies our choices. So much so that when, a moment ago, I wrote, “this sort of thing has been going on forever,” few would have recognized it as the crucial point it is.
Here’s what I mean. From the very beginning God created us to be responders—to live in an “I-and-you” communion. This was at the heart of God’s Triune ambition, “Let us make man in our image, male and female.” With the bonding function of love at work, just as God’s mutual bond of love has been present from before the creation.
It’s what Jesus, in John 17:24, said he wants—or has as a “desire” for us—for all of eternity: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” It’s in the “because you loved me” that we have a basis for value. God, who loves, wants us to join him in that eternal communion of love. His glory comes in his love.
So what went wrong in Eden? Satan, a beautiful creature loved his own beauty—see Ezekiel 28:17—and then used that impulse to capture the first couple. Notice his marketing in Genesis 3, “‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” The force of “saw” and “delight” and “desired” still works today.
Jesus exposed Satan’s ploy as he chased off pseudo-believers in John 8:30-59. Competing affections were at stake: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God … [but] You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” The battle is in “what I want …”
Paul wrote of this competition in Ephesians 2:1-3—“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Once again we see “passions” and “desires” used to hijack hearts.
The solution to misguided, “What I really want,” impulses is clear enough. The joy of walking with our Creator is greater than the brief pleasures of chasing Eden’s flawed fruit. We’re invited to taste and see God’s goodness; and to live for the joy that Jesus had when he gave himself up for us.
Let me end with a reminder of a marketing scheme for this Christmas. On TV we see a man taking his wife out to the driveway where a pair of new and very expensive “his and her” vehicles are parked. An SUV was for her and a Pickup was for him. But she rushes instead to “his” Pickup, flings out her arms, and shouts again and again, “I love it!!”
Marketing isn’t just for children! Yet Christians will know well enough to love God and neighbors. Big vehicles and shiny apples on forbidden trees are dead ends.