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PRESENTS OR PRESENCE?

December 13, 2019

Here in mid-December, procrastinators will crowd retail stores, bargain hunters will search for reduced prices, and cyber shoppers will max out their credit cards in one final frenzy. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day gifts will be given and received. On December 26 many will exchange their gifts for a more suitable size, style, or color.

Perhaps this is a time to rethink our gift-giving.

The story of the Magi is a story of unusual people giving exotic gifts under strange circumstances. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, as odd as they may seem, were quite appropriate; gold for royalty; frankincense for a priest, myrrh, an embalming spice, for one who is to die. In giving gifts it is not only the thought that counts, but also the meaning behind the gift.

Well-chosen gifts need not be as extravagant as those of the wise men. One Christmas our children and I enjoyed making and giving bluebird boxes. Another year, I cut out breadboards. Clare added a loaf of homemade bread. One year, when our budget was especially tight, we made hand-cut paper snowflakes for family and friends. These simple gifts can be more meaningful than purchased items.

On Christmas Eve, Jeff and his extended family gathered in the living room of his grandmother’s home. The family had grown so large that they had decided to draw names instead of giving gifts to everyone.

Aunt Ethel decided she didn’t want to draw names. A wealthy spinster, she could afford to give everybody a gift! She took delight in selecting and wrapping gifts. Her decorated presents were works of art.

When Jeff received the elongated, flat box decorated with a Styrofoam snowman, he thought that he knew what Aunt Ethel had given him. In early December, she had phoned to ask Jeff what he preferred. He carefully opened the box, keeping the cleverly crafted snowman intact. He was horrified! Aunt Ethel’s present was perhaps the ugliest necktie he had ever seen. It looked something like a bag of Purina Dog Chow. The pattern of large red and white checks.

Jeff’s face revealed his shock and disappointment. He lifted the tie from the tissue paper and looked into the empty box to be sure he hadn’t missed something.

Aunt Ethel asked brusquely, “Don’t tell me you don’t like it.”

Then she added, “It’s exactly what you said you wanted.”

Jeff responded, “Aunt Ethel, when you asked me if I preferred a large check or a small check, I didn’t know you were talking about a necktie.”

Most of us have had the experience of receiving a purchased gift that we did not need or want. Homemade gifts are always a delight to receive.

In our home, we enjoy treasures that have been given to us in Christmases past. Cross-stitched pieces, knitted afghans, wooden serving trays, crocheted dish cloths, homemade aprons, paintings, and hand-thrown pottery are pleasant reminders of friends and family who have taken the time to make a gift.

One smart dad that I know gave each member of his family a paper Christmas ornament. The ornaments were hung inconspicuously on the tree. On Christmas morning, as presents were opened, the family wondered why there were no gifts from Dad. After all of the other gifts had been unwrapped, the dad presented the paper ornaments to his family.

Tucked inside each ornament was a personal note. To his son, he gave a three-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, just for the two of them. To his daughter, he gave a three-day skiing trip, just for the two of them. To his wife, he gave a Caribbean cruise, just for the two of them. The smart dad was a contemporary wise man. He not only gave presents to the people he loved, but he also gave the gift of presence, time to be with them.

For many people the gift of presence is the heart of faith. The meaning of the divine covenant is God being with his people. The gift of Immanuel is God with us.

The gift of presence is better than presents.

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