Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Of Gifts and the Gift

We’ve pretty much made Christmas all about the gifts. And we have no one to blame but ourselves. Some want to blame the Magi: “They started it with those gifts to the toddler Jesus.” And their gifts were no dollar store trinkets or stocking stuffers either. They gave the Christ-child gold, frankincense, and myrrh—expensive gifts, elaborate gifts. So, some want to blame the Magi for our Christmas gift-giving madness. “That’s what happens when you get pagans involved. All Mary and Joseph brought to Christmas were their obedience and faith. All the shepherds brought were praise and wonder. Leave it to those pagan Easterners, those Yankee Gentile materialists to clutter up Christmas with a bunch of presents.”

But I’m not buying that, are you? There’s one huge difference in their Christmas gift-giving compared to ours: they give their gifts to Jesus; we give our gifts to one another. And that’s really kind of weird when you think about it. Last Saturday, my granddaughter Reece turned seven years old last Saturday. And when Dayna and I were working on our gift list for her birthday, she was the only one on the list. We didn’t take a gift to her father or her mother or her brother. And Dayna and I didn’t give gifts to one another to celebrate Reece’s birthday. We just gave our gifts to Reece, and nobody found that strange. When we gave our gifts to Reece, her dad didn’t say, “Hey! Where’s my gift?” It wasn’t his birthday; it was her birthday.

What if we who follow Jesus decided that since Christmas is Jesus’ birthday, we’ll give our gifts to Him instead of one another? A few years ago, a couple of pastors broached that idea with their congregations. They call it the Christmas Conspiracy—make Christmas giving about Jesus instead of about ourselves. What if we adopted that idea? Retailers wouldn’t like it, and who could blame them? They need a big Christmas to make a profit for the year. Children wouldn’t like it. There would be tears and anger and maybe they’d go on strike or something. And some of us wouldn’t like it either because we very much enjoy the give and take of Christmas.

So I’m not proposing any of us adopt this idea cold turkey—there would be too many painful withdrawals. But what if we scaled way back on one another and raised the bar on our gifts to Jesus? It’s a teachable moment for kids and a way to build new traditions for them and for their kids someday.

But what do we give to Jesus? Talk about trying to find a gift for a person who has everything! But really, Jesus is easy to give to. You give Him the things that are close to His heart: gifts to mission is close to the heart of Him who came to seek and to save the lost. A gift to any charity that cares for the poor and the homeless or the sick and the troubled and the orphan is a gift close to the heart of Him who loves those people and wants to lift them up. But what if you have no money? What can you give Jesus then? How about your heart? How about giving some time to the church or to charitable organizations that do Jesus-work in your community? I’m not saying don’t give gifts to people you love at Christmas, but what if you gave a little less to them and a little more Jesus? It’s Jesus’ birthday, after all, not ours.

And besides, Christmas isn’t so much about our gifts as it is about God’s gift—the gift of His Son Jesus who lived for us and died for us and was raised from the dead for us too. Jesus didn’t leave heaven and come to earth so we could have this big party every December. Jesus came not for Christmas but for Good Friday, not for the cradle but for the cross. Jesus came to give us life. To do that, He had to die for us on the cross. That’s how God can forgive our sins and still be true to himself and His holy, loving character. Jesus was born to die. The crude timber of the manger foreshadows the crude timber of the cross. And please don't be put off by that because that’s where Christmas was heading all the time.

So give your gifts this Christmas. Give to those you love; give gifts to Jesus too. But in all that giving, remember this: Christmas is not really about our gifts; it’s about God’s Gift. And when you can get your heart and mind around that truth, it will change your Christmas … and it just might change your life.


  1. Hi John, This is a wonderful concept and proposal. We as a family decided to do this last year and the joy and blessings we felt will never be forgotten. My son (Lori's little brother) was killed six months before Christmas and none of us wanted to celebrate Christmas as we had done in the past. Each family adopted a project and spent the bulk of the Christmas budget on someone else. We then got together each weekend and enjoyed something special as a play, game night etc. We exchanged "white elephant" gifts and did something for someone all throughout the month. Many were "anonymous" gifts and we also remembered Jake's friends and co-workers at Home Depot with a surprise Donut party party in his memory. This year we will go back to our family gift giving but instead of spending a ton of money on gifts, we are all baking, crafting or sharing something we already had. We've also remembered how good it felt to do for others and we did little things throughout the year that we'll present to groups at Christmas and again in an unobtrusive way as to not call attention to ourselves. We grew as a family and also took the pressure and stress of the holidays off. Merry Christmas to you and yours. God Bless.

  2. Thanks, Mollye. Your comments and personal experience strengthen the concepts in the blog and add to its value.