I’m a difficult person to buy a gift for. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s just that I am happy with my life the way it is. Perhaps it is that everything I want is way more expensive than is reasonable to expect as a gift.
In our family we have decided that adults don’t need gifts and that Christmas presents are reserved for children. This would be fine by me except for the fact that we don’t keep to this. Adults’ names go into the proverbial hat and each of us is allocated the name of one other to buy a gift for to the value of $20. No matter who I get in this Christmas game of roulette, I struggle to find an appropriate gift. Perhaps it’s that everything they need is way more expensive than is reasonable to expect as a gift. Perhaps it’s just that people have everything they need or everything they need that costs less than $20!
Gift vouchers are forbidden! This is seen as a cop out. You may as well just put the $20 in an envelope and let them spend it wherever they want. Even if it gets spent on groceries, it will get used. Last year The Age reported that a third of gift cards go unused in Victoria. There are actually websites where you can trade you gift card for another card or even cash!
I know that this is definitely a “First World Problem” and it is somewhat shameful that we haven’t just agreed to buy a goat for some family in the developing world. It’s just a little more guilt I’ll have to live with.
Gift giving at Christmas is linked to the origins of the story itself. There is also the story of the Wise Men and their gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. I sometimes wonder what became of them.
Jesus is God’s gift to the world. As the hymn says “A perfect life, of perfect deeds, once to the world was shown that everyone might mark his steps and in them place their own.”
In many ways Jesus was an unwanted gift. Yes, the people of the day were looking for a Saviour but it was a different sort of Saviour than this tiny baby.
They wanted a king but King Herod was pretty keen to kill him. They wanted a leader but they got a teacher, who confounded their thinking again and again: Love your enemies, etc. They wanted victory over their evil overlords (the Romans) but instead had someone who condemned their own religious leaders and caused trouble in the temple.
Jesus was such an unwanted gift that when given a choice between Barabbas and Jesus by Pontius Pilate, the people chose Barabbas the violent revolutionary over Jesus the Prince of Peace.
So when I see pictures of the baby Jesus, lying in the manger, wrapped in strips of cloth as God’s gift to the world I can’t help thinking that gift giving is such a tricky business.
Each Christmas we remember that God chose with great care a gift for the world. It was a gift that He knew we needed but most of us have seen the gift, considered it briefly and then decided it’s not something that we need.
The good news is that God doesn’t take offence and every year Christmas reminds us that the greatest gift is love and it is still freely available.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister