Archived Story

Giving gifts at Christmas

Published 10:41am Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas is all about gifting. It includes, of course, the easy and obvious happiness of receiving gifts and the harder and subtle joy of giving gifts. But it also includes the yet more difficult gift to the giver of receiving gifts graciously and humbly. The manner and spirit in which we accept gifts can be a loving return to the giver that itself becomes the yet greater gift.

What I have experienced to be unique in Christmas gifting is that it is well beyond the mere giving and receiving of gifts. On most occasions during the year — birthdays, anniversaries, graduations — we give and they receive. At Christmas, as we say, we exchange gifts. This verb, however, must not be used in the sense of quid pro quo, “this for that.” It is even more than mutual giving and becomes the experience of reciprocity. The material exchange is but symbolic of social, emotional —and, yes, even spiritual — sharing of our selves.

Gifting is a profound relationship of persons. From within our individualities, we move outward to other individuals and bond in community. We become more than our single selves and more even than two selves together. There can be a multiplying effect so that we become more than the two of us. The product is significantly greater than that each has given and each has received. Something new, a tertium quid, has been created that could develop in no other way.

There is, I think, such a thing as the perfect gift. It’s hard to define in the abstract, but we know it when we see it. We feel it when we receive it; we feel it when we give it. I can offer examples, almost all within the family, both of the perfect gifts I have received and those I have given. But these are so precious and intimate it would seem profane to cite them. I can just say that the perfect gift occurs when one person so understands and cares about the other he or she gives something profoundly needed and passionately desired.

If language would tolerate a superlative greater than this (a more perfect gift), it would be when the giver knows the receiver profoundly needs and would passionately desire the gift—but that the person does not yet recognize the need or sense the passion but the giver does. We are fortunate indeed if this happens once or twice in a lifetime.

This all began — this gifting — over two thousand years ago, but this perfect gift — this prototype perfect gift — is once-for-all. God had created humankind as a gift to himself to reflect his eternal glory for his own enjoyment. But the first humans took this priceless gift and defaced it with what they grabbed for themselves in their futile attempt to make themselves more than the perfect gift he had created. Not having succeeded, they became less than he created. But God so loved the humans he had created — corrupted as we made ourselves — that he sent his one-of-a-kind Son to die in our places on the cross we deserve by our sin.

This Son of his own free will emptied himself of his divine prerogatives and took upon himself the humble form of humans. He actively lived the perfect human life none of us ever has so he sustained a perfect life to offer the Creator in place of the sinful lives we lost. It pleased the Father to accept the perfect gift of his Son’s perfect life in exchange for our salvation. Thus, God gifted us with nothing less than the perfect life of his perfect Son.

This is the superlative gift because we humans profoundly need it and, once we finally receive it, we passionately desire it. If we accept God’s perfect gift of his Son, he enables us to exchange gifts at Christmas that both express and implement the ultimately perfect Christmas gift.

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