It is the season of gift giving. Currently, my tree is bursting with presents beneath it. I love considering just the right gifts for neighbors, friends, and family, especially my husband and children. Each person's name under the tree is special to me in some way.
The part of gift giving I enjoy has little to do with money and everything to do with expression. Each type of gift communicates something from the giver to the receiver.
A gift that fulfills a need of some sort says, "I notice and care about you."
A gift that is a complete surprise says, "I know what you need, even if you didn't know you needed it."
A gift that brings beauty communicates, "I want to surround you with reflections of the best this world can offer."
A gift that makes a person feel special says, "I know you and I know just what you love."
A gift that makes life more enjoyable says, "I rejoice to see you enjoying life."
A gift can be enjoyed for years to come says "I want to bless you with future joy."
A gift comes with great personal cost or sacrifice of some sort (time, energy, money) says, "I love you more than I love myself."
Even though I love gift giving, as I face the hustle and bustle of shopping and see the materialism abounding in our culture, I find myself questioning, What does any of this have to do with Jesus? Is the way we celebrate Christmas just an excuse to overspend, overindulge, and focus too much on temporal pleasures? Should I run from the stores, remove the presents from the tree, and find other ways to celebrate? Is gift giving by definition rooted in the material world because it is usually an exchange of earthly treasures?
Reflection of Our CreatorAs I discussed my internal struggle with my husband, he kindly reminded me that gift giving does not so much reflect worldly materialism as our Creator, who delights to give gifts to his people. I bear within my humanity the stamp of his image. There is something of the divine nature in yearning to give to others.
He also reminded me that while we bear the image of our Creator, it is marred and broken by the Fall. A good desire becomes twisted and results in sin. Rather than glorify the Creator, gift giving is often rooted in the desire for self-glory. My internal wrestling exhibits the war between what I was created to be and the effects of sin.
Our car ride conversation prompted me to ponder anew the glory of the gift that God freely gave on that night in Bethlehem. These reflections have filled my heart with a deep joy and thanksgiving. Reveling in the wonder of the true and lovely fills the shadows of earthly gift giving with substance.
Truly special gifts usually involve preparation and waiting. From the exit of Eden, a promise of redemption and a hope was given. The divine whisper continued speaking through all the prophets: Something special is coming. Wait for it. Watch for it. Hope in it.
And then, at just the right moment in time, God sent angels and a star in the heavens to declare, "The gift is here." Glory wrapped in flesh made his dwelling among us in the form of a baby. It was unexpected. It was surprising. It was exactly what we needed.
The second Adam, born of a virgin, born far from the paradise of Eden, came and lived a perfect life. He resisted temptation. He walked in and dealt with all the brokenness of this world. He wept. He rejoiced. He went to weddings. He made intimate friendships. He experienced betrayal. He healed. He taught. He loved. He lived a perfect life, so that he could die a wrongful death. His people wanted an earthly kingdom, and he ushered in a heavenly one.
All of it was part of the gift.
He Fulfills Them All
When I consider all the reasons I love giving and receiving gifts, I realize that in Christ, God fulfills them all. In Jesus, God communicates:
I notice and care about you. (1 Peter. 5:7)
I know what you need, even when you didn't know you needed it. (Romans 5:15-19)
I give you beauty instead of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3)
You are fully known and fully loved. (1 Corinthians 13:1 -12)
I rejoice to see you enjoying life. (John 10:10, John 15:11)
I want to give you future joy. (John 16:24, Acts 2:28, Rev. 21:1-4)
I love you more than I love myself. (John 15:13, Romans 5:6-8)
Christ is the one gift needed. He never wears out or loses shape, but continues to grow increasingly dear with each passing year. Like a treasure chest, deeply laden with all sorts of riches, new delights await, ready to be uncovered. Our earthly giving at Christmas partially reflects this one great gift.
This evening, as I gaze at the lights and presents, I hope on Christmas morning those names under my tree will know I love them and respond with squeals of delight. In similar accord, as I ponder the gift of Jesus, I see that I am more deeply loved than I can imagine. Inwardly, a childish expression of delight escapes, overflowing into joyful worship: "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"
Melissa Kruger serves as women's ministry coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is the author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World (Christian Focus, 2012).
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