Thursday, December 27, 2012

Of Gifts and Givers

Christmas is about giving, right?  We spend time, money, and energy looking for the perfect gift for someone we love in remembrance of the greatest gift of all time...God the Father gave us His Son so that we might have life.  "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."  1 John 5:12

Of course in the hustle and bustle of this holiday madness we have created, the glitter of the retailers' big hurrah, and the ever-growing march of our society away from God, the greatest gift and the Greatest Giver are often lost, forgotten, or pushed aside.  We cheat ourselves.  We grieve our Creator.  And when tragedy strikes, as it does in this world, those for whom Christmas is only a festive occasion are suddenly left with nothing to celebrate.  No hope. 

In my family, we have tried to simplify our Christmas festivities.  Yes, family togetherness and special food and gifts are a part of it, but our desire is to keep Christ in the center.  We spent some time sharing what we are thankful for...some thought of simple pleasures that we can enjoy because God allows it , others spoke about the blessings God has given us that outlast our material world.  Our conversation turned to Kingdom matters and how to be better God-seekers.  Then we enjoyed the time of giving and receiving.  We didn't go wild buying gifts and we didn't spend what we don't have.  The gifts chosen were few but meaningful.  Sometimes fun, sometimes practical, sometimes surprising, depending on personalities, but always with careful thought to delight the recipient. 
With twelve people in the family, opening gifts turns into quite an event, despite our simple preparations!  We have a secret name exchange, so it's a time when we get to find out who drew our name.  It's a time for trading stories about where someone got a creative idea or where they found some special item or how they knew just what the person wanted.  It's a time to enjoy being together and expressing our love for one another in the tangible form of giving.  And it's a time to rejoice in each other's joy....the expressions, exclamations, and appreciation as each gift is revealed.

Today, the day after Christmas, I was thinking about the way our giving and receiving reflects our Heavenly Father.  It was fun to watch how everyone reacted in different ways to their gifts.  My seven year old brother was ecstatic over everything, especially his new cars!  He kept saying, "I can't believe it!!!"  One of my sisters was amazed that whoever got her name knew exactly what she liked....which happened with a little clandestine help from her roommate.  My mom was supremely pleased with her gift of new clothes...everything was perfect for her...the result of a cooperative effort by two daughters.  Everyone was fascinated by the uncommon gift that my inventive-minded brother gave my dad.  And when my future brother-in-law produced a gift of gourmet chocolates from his parents, we swarmed it like bees to honey!  Each of us took pleasure in the gifts we received, but we had double pleasure in watching our family members delight in what we gave them.  How sad would it be to give someone a special gift that you planned to bring them joy, and have them dislike or reject it?  Maybe this has even happened to you.

 I think that if I can get such pleasure from watching someone enjoy my gift, how much more joy does God have when we delight in His gifts to us?  When He created the world, Genesis tells us that He said everything He made was very good.  He takes great delight in the flaming sunset, the soaring mountain peak, the ocean waves roaring, the brilliant colors of sky and grass and flower, the grace of an eagle riding the air, the icy tendrils in a snowflake, the colors and shapes and sizes and unique handprints and personalities and gifts of every human being.  But God didn't fashion these things because He needed them.  He didn't need to put a little bit of His glory into every part of His creation in order to see or know how glorious He is.  I think He did it because He wanted to share His glory and joy with us!  Imagine Him planning every intricate detail for our enjoyment!  Think of the way you feel when your best friend absolutely loves the gift you gave them.  Can you imagine how much pleasure it gives God to see us loving the things He's made?  And when we begin to take the time to name every gift we can think of that He has given, and the list goes on and on and on, and we find even greater joy in the that must thrill His heart!  And then when we begin to look harder and discover the beautiful in the ugly things, the hard things, the painful things, and we understand that everything coming from the hand of our Father is good and perfect, even when it doesn't make sense, and we trust Him despite the pain....that must bring Him the deepest satisfaction, for He sees the whole of the beautiful tapestry He is weaving in your life and mine...we only see the ugly knotted underside.  And He knows that some of the sharpest and ugliest stones will become the most brilliant gems...ashes will become beauty, mourning will turn to dancing, streams of water will burst forth out of dry ground, and deserts will bloom!  Remember, the greatest gift came at the highest cost.  And it wasn't pretty.  Picture Jesus hanging on the cross.  Covered in blood.  Flesh ripped open.  Horrid, long nails through His body.  Gasping for breath.  Screaming in agony.  Heart broken as the full weight of our sin hangs on His shoulders and His Father turns away.  It's the ugliest picture you can imagine.  But it's also the most beautiful.  "But God shows His love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Romans 5:8  It's the ultimate love story.  "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?"  Romans 8:32

Sadly, untold numbers of people have rejected the greatest gift and the Greatest Giver.  Others have ignored Him, seeing their own small pursuits as more significant than knowing the One who gave them life.  And many, even those of us who call ourselves His children, have worshipped the gifts rather than the Giver.  Imagine if you gave a wonderful gift to your friend.  Maybe they expressed their gratitude at first, but they loved the gift so much they became obsessed with it.  They began to spend all their time and energy with this gift.  They no longer spent time with you, and soon your lives drifted apart.  This is how many people treat God.  They'll eagerly take His blessings, but they lose interest in cultivating a deep relationship with Him.  We also fall into taking the gifts for granted, neglecting to say thank you.  Instead of opening our eyes and telling God how much we are grateful for, we focus on what we don't have, and we become blind to everything we do have. 

So today, think about the Greatest Giver, and consider whether you truly want Him, or only His gifts?  Think about the greatest gift.  Have you accepted it and opened it?  Do you have the Son?  Think about your daily life.  Are you seeing, naming, and delighting in Father's countless gifts to you today?  Are you remembering that you have the best gifts, like hope, peace, and everlasting life, in Jesus Christ?  That no matter what happens, your life is bound up in the Giver, not the gifts?  He loves you.  He died to prove that.  He delights in your delight, but most of all, His joy in full when your delight rests in Him.  "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Psalm 37:4  He will be your desire.  Nothing else can fill you like He can.  He made you for Himself.  God is with us.  Immanuel.