This afternoon our oldest daughter surprised me with another of her innocently insightful queries. She asked: “Why do we get gifts at Christmas?” I was relieved to have thought through the issue of Christmas gifts just the day before. I recounted to her that God had given us Jesus and that is why we give gifts to each other – to celebrate this. I am not sure whether my reply was satisfactory to our daughter. At least, she pursued the question no further.
I had actually bumped into the same question just as I was setting out to do some Christmas shopping. I had been racking my brain for some time in search of the perfect gift for family members. I would have hated suddenly having to admit that my efforts had been in vain. Or worse still, that I was worshipping at the shrine of consumerism. Was there a point to giving gifts?
After this bout of self-doubt I eventually did begin scanning the shops for suitable gifts. I had some criteria: The gifts had to look like their recipients and be useful, but not merely functional. Something to bring a smile and a touch of festivity to the receiver’s heart. My shopping bag was soon filled with little gifts. Later, quite unexpectedly, I discovered one of the answers to my question concerning giving gifts. As I was wrapping a gift for one of the members of my family, my heart was suddenly filled with joy. I realised that my love had found a concrete expression in the little parcel. It was as if I released love in the gift.
Giving has the power to bind people’s hearts together in a deep way. In the act of giving and receiving, hearts are knitted together in a way nothing else can do. Don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting a credit-card, consumerist approach to life or Christmas. I have just come to realise that the reason we get gifts at Christmas is because somebody has the possibility and desire to give them. And hopefully behind the giving there is a heart that mirrors the Original Giver: a heart of generosity – not of consumerist obligation to worship materialism.
At Christmas, we celebrate Jesus, God’s perfect gift to the world. And Jesus truly is the perfect gift. Firstly, in giving the gift, God’s motivation was breathtakingly pure: God so loved the world that He gave Jesus (John 3:16). Secondly, God chose His perfect gift in perfect knowledge of the recipients. He knew our needs and set out to meet them. As is stated in the book of Hebrews, Jesus is the kind of high priest who “truly meets our need” (Hebrews 7:26). Thirdly, just like when I searched for presents of the perfect size for my family, God chose to send His Son to us in a size that we could relate to. Fourthly, we find that Jesus not only came to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins but to communicate God’s love to us. A perfect gift is an expression of the giver’s love. And finally, a true gift costs something. It cost God to give Jesus to us. He did not just give an angel He could do without, He gave His only Son. To us. To be loved and to be hated. To be wrapped snuggly in swaddling clothes and to be crucified.
Once a gift is given, it is fully released. The giver no longer has any say on what the recipient can do with the gift. At Christmas, we remember that God placed the Perfect Present in our hands. But the response is ours to choose. Will we gratefully receive Him and worship Him or ignore and reject Him?
What can I give him
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
Yet what I can I give him
Give my heart
(In the bleak midwinter)