The grumpy voices trying to cancel all celebrations of the Christmas story don’t seem to be speaking against the widespread practice of gift-giving itself. As a result, all around the world, the Christmas season is marked unhindered by the generous flow of gifts.
So, from before the time the leaves change color, inveterate shoppers watch store displays, posted ads, and internet offerings for gift ideas. Many bargain hunters hit the malls early on Black Friday, and last-minute shoppers search feverishly in picked-over displays for the right size or color.
The result of all this is that gifts of all shapes and sizes will materialize for Christmas. They’ll be heaped at the base of Christmas trees, left at the door by delivery services and pulled from hiding places to surprise and excite family members young and old.
But there are other kinds of gifts that could bring great joy to the receivers: phone calls to nieces or nephews, or aunts or uncles, or friends who don’t often hear from us; a note to an elderly relative who lives at a distance; a card of goodwill where relationships are strained; homemade cookies to a neighbor or friend.
I recall a special Christmas long ago before our children had reached adolescence. My wife made batches of cookies and the children and I delivered them neatly boxed to the homes of several shut-ins. The children’s eyes sparkled as they gave and the recipients received with joy.
It’s the pleasure of the unexpected that often makes a gift stand out. When the first ballpoint pens appeared and were not yet even on sale, my older brother, a merchant, received one as a sample to encourage him to order some to sell.
The box had $13 printed on it, a huge price for the late 1930s, and he gave it to me as a Christmas gift. Never mind that the technology was not yet refined and the lines it drew were sketchy. It could not honestly be called a fine writing instrument, but I hadn’t expected it and I received it as a treasure.
Whatever our techniques for celebrating the season by the exchange of gifts, we hope not to become so caught up in our gift-giving strategies that we forget to whom we give first honors. It is God, the “giver of every good and perfect gift,” and in a special way, the Son of his love who entered our sphere of existence as the Father’s finest offering.
For us to lose sight of that core fact would be like our going to a birthday party and entering heartily into the celebrations with friends while the person whose birthday we were gathered to celebrate sits quietly and unnoticed in the corner.
Christmas is a good season to remember Christina Rossetti’s lovely words:
“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 can I give him –
Give my heart.”
Photo credit: ahenobarbus (via flickr.com)