I am sure you have been asked this question many times already: “Are you ready for Christmas?”
And the question, of course, is about whether or not you have purchased all the gifts needed for the friends and family on your gift list. But, today, I want to ask that same question from a slightly different angle. Are your ready for Christmas – with our sights set on the greatest gift ever given to the human race – the coming of the Christ child?
The value of this gift is not just that it was given, the gift is unique because of what it means with regard to our soul’s status. Paul says it this way,
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
God’s gift to us in Christ is that he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Because of our sin, we have been hopelessly separated from him. But, instead of giving us what we deserved, which is permanent and ultimate alienation from him, he chose to move toward us in the person of his son. And the life he lived and death he died gives us a way back to him. For those who believe in him and what he did for us, we are made right with him. We experience grace and new life. A most amazing gift indeed!
For the past couple days we have been looking at the five love languages described by Gary Chapman in his book, by that same title. Those languages being:
- Acts of surface
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Thoughtful gifts
- Meaningful; touch
So far we have looked at the first three and connected them each to the story of Christmas. Our thinking has been that if it were God’s purpose to communicate his love to the world, he would use each of these languages to “speak” in a way we could all understand. He would speak our love language – in all five dimensions.
Now, one of the things I have found a bit difficult about preparing today’s blog is that there is a kind of stigma that works against us with this particular love language. And I think its because we work so hard to tell our kids, and maybe even ourselves, that the holiday is not principally about the gifts. Its not about the gifts… So much so that we could be danger of swinging the pendulum all the way to the other side and start to think/act as though thoughtful gift-giving is no big deal! When, in fact, giving or receiving a thoughtful gift may be one of the most beautiful expressions of love.
It certainly was so when we think about the great gift given to us in Christ!
In fact, even apart from the gift given to us in Jesus, the story of Christmas is surrounding in gift-giving. One of my favorite parts is the story of the three wise men who traveled from afar, who brought thoughtful gifts as an act of worship to the new born king.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him..”…
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh…
Matthew 2:1-2 &11
What I’d like you to think about for a moment is how much those gifts meant to Mary and Joseph. After all the doubts and ridicule expressed by others (regarding the “virgin” mother), these wise men came not only to see the child, but to bring gifts appropriate for a king! Jesus himself was too young to understand, but it is part of the story that has endured, and many in the Christian tradition point back to this act as the primary reason we still exchange gifts today – we do it in his name. And this was long before Santa came on the scene.
So, what I want to do today is to talk about the value of giving and receiving thoughtful gifts. And I really do believe both sides of the equation matter – giving and receiving. And, in dealing with those ideas, I’d like to cover two overarching thoughts:
- The spirit of giving and receiving
- The practice of giving and receiving.
I want to launch by asking you to think for a moment about how you approach this whole matter of holiday gift-giving. When you think about this practice what goes through your mind? Do you dread it? Is it a chore that you just have to get through? Or do you find it a delight. I don’t want you to feel any condemnation about wherever you are. I just want you to notice and be honest.
I would imagine for those who have the love language of thoughtful gifts, you love this part of the holiday. You take this part seriously. You are very strategic about the gifts you give, and you take a lot of pleasure in people doing the same for you.
But, I think this is the minority. If these love languages are equally dispersed, that means only 20% of us fit into this category. But, in my experience “gift giving” is also among the lowest of those mentioned in the informal surveys I have done – so I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual percentage of people who enjoy this is closer to 10%. So, what that means is that 80-90% of us fit into that category that finds little meaning or joy in this part of the holiday.
Yet, let’s think about this. One of the reasons that Chapman wrote the book, isn’t just so that we might become aware of our own love language, but I think it was part of his purpose that we grow in our capacity to communicate love in many different languages – even if they aren’t our own preferred style. What that means (maybe especially with this love language), is that we see our holiday season as a chance to grow in our capacity to show love in this way. To learn this language of love! And that starts with the way that we think about what we are doing. So, instead of dreading it or seeing it as a chore, let’s consider this a chance to grow in both how we give and how we receive love through the giving and receiving of gifts.
So, let’s begin with a little exercise. Repeat after me, “I don’t hate shopping for Christmas gifts”. <It’s OK, nobody is watching you> Try again. OK, I get it, we need more than self-hypnosis. Let’s approach this with a bit more of a spiritual perspective.
We started today talking about the great gift God gave us in Christ. What made it a great gift? Ponder that for a moment. We could probably talk about this from a number of perspectives. But, the first two things that come to mind is that the gift was great because:
- It was what we most needed
- It was given with great joy
Both are significant, but let’s tease them out a bit.
God went beyond what we thought we might need. If God were to ask what we wanted, we might have said any number of things (lots of money, an incredible spouse, meaningful work, a great physique). We probably wouldn’t have mentioned “getting our soul saved” – we might not have even thought about that one. And yet, God knew us well enough to know what was most important, and what our soul most desired – and he gave it to us with great joy – I mean, really great joy!
We looked a bit at this passage a couple days ago. But, remember what the angel said to the shepherds?
I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.
Now, it would seem to me that as aspiring imitators of God’s way, we might want to follow his example in this; that we would want to put on the mind of God as it relates to our gift-giving. To think the thoughts of God in what might otherwise be a mundane activity. He gave something truly thoughtful and needed that was shared with great joy. If we could do the same, how would that shift (for the better) what we do with our last-minute Christmas shopping?
Seriously, contrast that perspective with what typical happens. It’s the day before Christmas and some of us have barely started our shopping – so what will we do? We will hop on the internet and frantically look for a good deal. We won’t take much joy in doing any of it. It will be just about getting it done. And once we are finished, we will thank the good Lord that we won’t have to mess with that for another year. There is minimal thought and even less joy – and you know what? The person on the receiving end will feel that too. And I think we can do better, and I think deep down inside we really want to do better. And everyone will benefit! You will feel great and the one who receives it will be delighted by the thoughtfulness of it all!
Now, speaking about those on the receiving end, let me write to you for a moment. This may sound a bit unusual at first, but sometimes it is hard to be a good receiver. But, like I said earlier, both sides matter – both giving and receiving. So, let me take a shot at a very typical thought-process to those on the receiving side of the holiday season.
Someone asks a friend/family what they would like for Christmas and the person says, “Oh, you don’t have to get me anything…” But, you have been to this rodeo before, and you know if you don’t get them something, you will face some kind of payback – subtle but serious. If you do as they say and don’t get them anything; you will have failed. You know this, because you tried that before and you will never make that mistake again. But, what that means is that you will end up spending all kinds of time fretting about what to do – and it is extremely stressful!
So, if you are one of these people who creates this kind of stress-filled dilemma, might I say this as lovingly and kindly as I know how, “Stop it! Please…” You are taking the fun out of this season. Might I suggest that the learning for you in this season would be to make a shift in your own thinking about this and grow in your capacity to receive graciously. When someone asks what you would like, don’t be afraid to ask for something that would be genuinely meaningful to you – jewelry, a tool, a game, an article of clothing – and as you prep your mind for Christmas morning, discipline yourself to demonstrate a spirit of gratitude for the thoughtfulness. Help elevate the joy of gift-giving, do it for Jesus’ sake – seriously.
OK, so now that we have addressed the thinking side of the gift-giving piece, let’s turn our attention to the actual practice of doing it.
Let me set up a scenario, and I want you to think about the relational dynamics that are typical in almost every scenario. You have tried to do everything we have talked so far. You have tried to do something thoughtful. You are excited about what you get to give and what you might receive. Even though this isn’t typically your deal, you are trying to get better at it. So you your mind is the right place and you are about to give or receive a gift and as it is being opened, what is happening internally? There are all kinds of feeling, and for some of us it is pretty much below the surface – we may not even be aware that anything is happening. But, we are aware of is a certain amount of unsettledness. For the giver it is about an expectation related to the reaction to what’s inside. For the receiver it is about an expectation related to the object inside (will it be what I really want?).
And because we live in the day of Hallmark Christmas movies, the expectation-side of the equation is really high (on both sides). The giver is looking for a certain reaction, and the receiver is looking for a certain object – and the higher the expectations the greater the opportunity for disappointment. If the giver doesn’t get what he/she is looking for – the thought is that why did I go through so much trouble? They never appreciate what I do for them. And the receiver thinks, why do I even bother to think they will ever really understand me and what I really need? And no one says anything about what they are feeling, because that will make things worse all the way around.
But, isn’t amazing how these few moments – what happens after the exchange – can make or break a holiday!
So, I want to do a little pre-emptive intervention. I want to try and reduce the risk of this exchange going poorly.
Let’s all take a step back and ask ourselves a very basic, but all-important question.
What is the exchange really all about?
What are we trying to accomplish? What is the purpose of our gift-giving? I know this sounds really elementary, but go with me on this. What are we trying to do in this exchange?
As a hint, I’d like to go back to the title of the blog. What are we talking about? We are talking about growing in our appreciation for who this season is an illustration of all the ways God showed his love for us at Christmas AND how we might follow his lead in doing the same.
This exchange is about giving and receiving love
So, in a very real way it is not about the thing inside the box. It is not about the person’s reaction to the thing inside the box. It is about giving and receiving love in a tangible way. It is about the fact that I have someone to love that will receive my token of it. And it is about the fact that someone loves me enough to give me a token of their love. THAT is what this is about. And if we can ratchet back the expectations about everything else – this has a chance to be a really great Christmas.