The modern day versions we hear of Jesus’ birth often focus on him being a gift from God to us, and rightly so. But I wonder if it felt like a gift to those who were closet to baby Jesus at the time. I’m sure when the angel came to tell Mary she was going to carry the Savior of the world it must have been a glorious experience for her, though not without its complications. I’m guessing that life wasn’t looking quite like Mary had been expecting.
But then I thought, God knows what we need.
The Gift that God had Mary carry in her womb was the greatest gift ever. He knew that the world needed a Savior and that Jesus was necessary for us all. The circumstances may not have been what Mary would have wished for but she knew that if God was the Giver she could entrust her life to Him (see Matthew 1:38, 46-55).
For some of us, gifts are given to others at Christmas time in remembrance of all we’ve been given, especially the gift of Christ. But I happen to have mixed emotions about gifts, both in giving and receiving them. I am not always the greatest giver of gifts, nor am I always the greatest receiver.
~ On Receiving ~
The boys and I (and Jeremy) have been the recipients of some outstanding gifts. In past years we were sent on trips, taken out to eat and had medical bills paid for. People have given to us of their hard-earned money. Others have spent time with us when it wasn’t convenient for them. We’ve been fed and clothed and sheltered. We’ve been loved. We’ve also been recipients of gifts without price tags: children, amazing family, long-standing friends and supportive church communities.
Sometimes gifts surprise us. Sometimes they catch us off guard. Sometimes we’re maybe not sure if we want the gift. And oftentimes they go unnoticed.
My mom and Jeremy’s mom are outstanding gift-givers (not just of practical things but of love as well). But several Christmas’ ago, Jeremy opened a present from my mom. It was a trivet of sorts that had a table prayer written out in German. Meaningful…if you’re German. Not so much if you’re not. Jeremy wasn’t German. We all had a good laugh about it together (and my mom wondered how she had ever come to the conclusion that he was). And then a few Christmas’s ago I opened a lovely wrapped Christmas gift from Debbie, Jeremy’s mom. When I opened the package, I pulled out a lovely new down vest from the box. As I lifted it out, what was revealed underneath were a couple of old and used oven mitts. They had clearly been well worn and appreciated. I wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t want to blow it if these were heirlooms of some kind, but I wasn’t expecting an heirloom (at least not in the form of an oven mitt). I don’t even know what happened next but eventually Debbie saw them and said, “That’s where those are! I’ve been wondering where they’ve been!” She had accidentally wrapped up her oven mitts with the new down vest. We’re still not sure how they ended up together! We, too, had a good laugh and I’m sure I took a breath of relief when I realized I wasn’t going to have to attempt some sort of halfhearted gratitude for the well-worn mitts.
There are many reasons why gifts are hard to receive. Sometimes it might be because the love and sacrifice behind the gift overwhelms us. Sometimes the gift doesn’t match up with who we are. Sometimes we don’t know why we’ve been entrusted with the gift. But sometimes the gift is so extraordinary, the feeling of joy and indebtedness leaves us unsure of how to express ourselves.
I don’t always know how best to show my gratefulness for all the good gifts I’ve received in life. My prayer for years now has been that somehow God would orchestrate our life so that someday we could more often be “the giver” and less often “the receiver”. Or even that God would help us to be givers in the midst of receiving. There have been long and difficult seasons when I have felt that I have nothing to offer anyone, despite having been given so much. It has crossed my mind a few times that maybe there’s still more to learn by receiving. Perhaps only in receiving well will I ever be able to give well.
~ On Giving ~
I enjoy giving good gifts. I’m sure that my gifts are not always the right fit but I also try not to labor over the process. There is something fulfilling and confirming about giving a gift that is well-received. It’s evident that we know that person well and we know that our love has been received. The truth is, as fallen humans, we’re never going to be able to offer another person the perfect gift. Most of the things we give to another are things of this world. They wear out eventually, break, get lost. Maybe that’s why gift-buying can be such a stressful process. The world is shouting at us that we need to give all these things in order for another to know they are loved. At best, they serve as a temporary reminder of what we hope for and what we await with long-suffering…the Kingdom that has no end. We know we can’t buy that for anyone, but we know it’s the only thing we all need.
I decided recently that as the boys celebrate their birthdays every year, I always want one of their gifts to be something of Jeremy’s. So for Aedan’s 10th birthday in November I decided to give him a small iPod that Jeremy had brought with to the hospital. I kept stored on it the music that Jeremy had been listening to but I also added all of Jeremy’s music and some other favorite tunes that Jeremy and I had wanted the boys to be familiar with.
It had become clear to me immediately after Jeremy’s death that Aedan had a really hard time listening to Jeremy’s music. It was too painful for him to hear his voice. I’ve considered how to approach this with him. I know it’s difficult yet, it’s such a gift we have on hand. I’ve wondered if maybe Aedan needs to listen in private, on his own time. And I think I’ve found that this is a way for Aedan to receive the gift of Jeremy’s music, at least for the time being. It’s been enchanting for him, I can tell. And hard. But mostly, really good. He lays in bed and he knows that no one has any idea what he’s listening to (but whatever it is, I know it’s good stuff). Most often I find that he’s been listening to Jeremy’s music. He’ll sometimes walk out of his room in tears for having listened to it. But those are tears that need to be shed. His heart needs to receive it, even if it’s painful.
Good gifts given can touch the heart. They can encourage us. They can breach the eternal. They can maybe even play a part in forming us. And we know that the best gifts are given out of love. I’d maybe even say the only true gifts are given out of love. When I’ve given out of obligation, my heart is somewhat repulsed by the process and I can hardly call it a gift to someone. And when someone is obligated to give me a gift, it makes it more difficult to receive. I don’t want to give or be given to because it’s expected but because I/they want to. There are many reasons why good-gifting is hard. We can’t always practically give in this day and age (because of time or money) or maybe it’s because we realize that we don’t know those we love as well as we want to.
~ But What Of the Greatest Gift ~
I know it sounds somewhat cliché to say that God the Father was the greatest giver of gifts and that Jesus was the greatest gift. Especially to a ten, eight and five year old, it’s hard to make that Gift tangible to them. But I pray that one day they will see that all we need for Christmas has already been given. My heart’s pursuit at Christmas time is to actively embrace the joy of that Gift and to cast my heart into a deeper trust of the Gift-Giver. God truly does know what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6). I am comforted by the fact that God doesn’t need to ask for a list from me, nor is His Gift dependent on me being naughty or nice. Rather, we are aware that He knows us. His love and grace are the motives behind the Gift. I am to receive it well, enjoy it, find comfort and hope in it, and shine it upon a hilltop for all to see…
I need this baby boy Jesus and the hope that entered our world the day our King was born. If not for that life and that gift the darkness would remain dark. But He brought light. And I want to dwell in that light, becoming light-giving as well. I want my boys to know of it, especially at Christmas. I don’t always know how to orchestrate that for them when our world shouts constantly that this season is about other things. But the world has it all wrong. And sometimes even I need to be reminded that the world has it all wrong.
It’s also good to remember that the circumstances surrounding Christ’s entry into the world probably didn’t appear to be the wrappings of a perfect gift, but they were. Those circumstances were not the gift itself. But God was working within those circumstances to bring His Son, the Savior, into the world. In taking on our humanity, He gave up everything. This sacrifice wasn’t for some lofty prize. Instead, it was for a life on earth that would end in suffering. The prize to be won was for us, for our salvation. What a gift.
God is indeed the giver of great gifts. He doesn’t mistakenly place worn out mitts in perfect packages He hands us. He doesn’t relish having scored the greatest deal–He had to pay full price for us. He is the perfect gift giver. We can trust that He knows us well.