It’s been a long year. I’ve noticed that many people seemed to put up their Christmas trees and decorations early this year because everyone is looking forward to Christmas. We all need something to celebrate.
Yet, Christmas comes with its positives and negatives. What is odd about Christmas is that most of the positives and the negatives are the same. Take, for instance, the Christmas work gathering, or the family Christmas party, or all the preparations for Christmas – they’re both good and not so good.
Gift-giving falls into the same category. It can be a painful process deciding what to give people. My wife Jane and I have a conversation each year about what we should give each other, asking ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ The answer is, ‘Nothing!’
Now, probably what we should give each other is nothing, but it just brings up the problem, the tension, the challenge of buying gifts and deciding what is a good gift to give.
I think we can actually go back to the first Christmas, the gift of Jesus to all of humanity, and we can learn something about gift-giving.
As we consider gift-giving and the story of the first Christmas, I want to explore three “un-gifts” of Christmas.
The first is the unexpected. It’s always special to open an unexpected gift. The gifts that take us by surprise. The presents we didn’t know we wanted or needed until we open them.
Jesus was an unexpected gift. When Jesus arrived, there was nobody in the stable. Shepherds arrived later because angels said, “Hey, there’s a birth you should go and see”. At some later time, a few Eastern stargazers, who had travelled kilometres, eventually found their way to Bethlehem, but nobody else seemed to notice.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how the Old Testament pointed to Jesus – but the timing and the way this King arrived was totally unexpected.
And it’s the unexpected gifts that turn out to be the most significant of all.
There is a special art to giving and receiving gifts that has become the norm in our 21st-century Western world. It is rarely discussed but it is a silent assumption made among the family and friends in our lives.
This is the art of matching. We try to make sure that when we give and receive gifts, we are exchanging gifts of the same monetary value. We all know that awkward feeling when we hand someone a pack of Cadbury Favourites and they give us an extravagant gift voucher to our favourite restaurant! It’s awkward and somehow feels wrong – and usually, we make a mental note for next year to make up for the unmatched gift.
Consider the gift of Jesus to humanity. That is an unmatched gift. We cannot match or make up for the gift of God giving Jesus, his death and resurrection.
Christmas recognises this unmatched gift. And while we can’t give anything in return, we can grow in our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.
One of the realities of modern life is that very few material things in life last very long. It’s a sobering reminder at Christmas as we, collectively, spend billions of dollars on gifts that will go out of fashion, break, become outdated or need upgrading one day.
There is something unique about celebrating a gift that was given 2000 years ago.
Jesus is the gift that is unending. His life is still celebrated and the gift of this baby at Christmas is an everlasting gift. It doesn’t date, become irrelevant or go out of fashion. The “good news of great joy” announced by the Angels is still relevant today – Jesus is still good news for all the people.
I hope this Christmas you are reminded of the unending gift of the life of Jesus and I hope it helps you select gifts that reflect this to those you love.
These are the ‘un-gifts’ of Christmas – the unexpected, unmatched and unending gift of Jesus that we celebrate each year. It’s what made his birth extraordinary and it’s why we still pause and celebrate it over 2000 years later.
As you give and receive gifts this year, I wonder how you could reflect the gift of Jesus?
Perhaps it’s spending time selecting an unexpected gift that takes someone by surprise. Maybe you could find an opportunity to show generosity with an unmatched gift. Or see if you could find ways of giving gifts that are unending – that won’t be thrown out or become outdated in the coming months.
Have a blessed Christmas and my prayer is that through the exchange of gifts, you would reflect on the incredible gift of Jesus into our world and into your life.
Karl Faase is CEO Olive Tree Media.