“Gift Giving”

December 24, 2015
Jonathan Rumburg
Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:1-20

Introduction

As much as we all complain about the Christmas shopping frenzy, there is still something special about giving that just right, perfect gift.

Sure we have to endure the endless number of cars around the Chapel Hill or Stow-Kent or even Fairlawn areas, where we must endure the chaos outside of the stores only to then have to endure the chaos on the inside.  But regardless of what it takes to get them, we all know the pleasure of giving gifts at Christmas—we know that it really is a blessing to be able to give to others.  And actually it can be deeply satisfying to give a gift—even if we don’t know the person we are giving to.  Here’s what I mean…

Earlier this Christmas season, folks at Christmas24, a NBC-Universal International channel called Movies24 but come November it turns to Christmas24 where they show only Christmas movies until after the New Year, decided to do what they called, “The Christmas Gift Experiment.”

To do this experiment they set-up in Grand Central Station of Birmingham, England, a large elaborate gift box that featured a lit up sign that read “Free Presents”.

How it worked was that a telephone on the outside of the giant gift box would begin to ring, and those who dared to answer the call were greeted by a mystery voice who then offered them a present.  In a twist, though, the person who received the call was then asked to do something rather odd with the gift.

Check out the video of this experiment.

****Video Plays Here***

          Luke Beardsworth took part in this experiment and said: “When I realized the gift was meant for someone else, I was surprised.  But seeing the gentleman’s reaction when he opened the gift I gave him was wonderful.  Being able to bring a little happiness to someone I had never met before was a lovely feeling and what Christmas should be all about.”

I like the message there. Giving is a lovely feeling.  Giving is what Christmas is all about.  Giving is how Christmas should be—after all, giving is how Christmas has always been.

It is the model we strive to emulate each year because it was at the first Christmas when God began the gift giving that changed everything.

Move 1

Indeed, gift giving is great.  But we all know giving gifts can be tricky.

Host of radio’s “Prairie Home Companion”, Garrison Keillor, speaks to such when he says, “A Christmas gift represents somebody’s theory of who you are, or who they wish you were.”  Isn’t that the truth?  I loved that when I read it.

Keillor goes on to say, “However, there is sometimes a disconnect between gift and recipient when what you receive doesn’t match your self-image.  For instance, what if you see yourself as a suave dude of swift intellect, but then one year your wife— your wife— gives you a pair of singing undershorts that perform ‘O Tannenbaum’?  That’s when you go through a sort of identity crisis.

          You’d like to get a gift that aims high—like Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’, or a ticket to Nepal… instead, here is a pair of bedroom slippers with lights in the toe so you can see your way to the bathroom at night.”

Gift giving can be tricky.  In fact, you probably have your own stories and theories of tricky gift giving—I know I do—in fact it is a tricky source of contention for my wife and I.

Julie wants to live out the whimsy of finding just the right gift for someone, based upon what she knows about them and what she believes they would truly love to get.  (Isn’t that nice and sweet?)  The contention comes when I interject my gift giving theory and practice—STICK TO THE LIST!!!

I believe you should always stick to the list because we’ve all been there, right?  We’ve all had that moment when we have opened a gift, given by someone who didn’t stick to the list, and we just didn’t know what to say.  And so we sit there with our mouth agape, trying to come up with something to say, but inevitably all we can muster is, “Isn’t this…interesting.”  Which we all know means… Well you know what it means.

So what has now happened is that instead of giving me a gift, you have given me an errand I now have to run!  This terrible thing has to be returned, amidst all the post-Christmas chaos, all because you don’t know me as well as you think you do, and, of course because you didn’t STICK TO THE LIST!!!

Move 2

Still though… At the heart of Christmas is gifting.  There is the joy of giving, and there is the joy of receiving—even if someone doesn’t stick to the list.  This is true because within gift giving there is always the desire to please, and a desire to even meet a need—whether that need is to give a practical gift that is handy and of use, or if that need is to be made aware that someone is loved.

Therefore, at their best, the “joy of giving” and the “joy of getting” come together at Christmas, when the “desire to please” meets the “desire to receive” with a gift that meets a deep need.  And that is, of course, the heart of the Christmas story.

*******

          On that first Christmas, God gave all humankind a gift that meets our deepest need.  God gave us a child— a savior who came as Emmanuel: God with us.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.  But God’s gift came as a surprise that first Christmas, and it still surprises us, because truth be told, we aren’t very good at knowing what we need.

We look at the world around us, and listen to its messages, and start to believe that what we need are things like money and power and success.  Those are the things that will make us happy, we think.

And so we open God’s gift only to find ourselves with our mouths agape trying to come up with something to say.  The difference through is this one really is what we need—even if it wasn’t on our list.

What we have received, of course is a vulnerable, dependent, weak little baby who grew up to be something other than what the people expected—but needed most.

They were hoping for the gift of a military fighter… a political leader… a king.  But what they got was a rabbi who confronted the establishment— who challenged the people’s notions of who God is— of what God is like— of what God wants from humankind.

The people wanted a hero, but they got a man whose ministry only lasted three years before he was put to death by a realm that said a resounding “no” to God’s gift.  But in God’s gracious gift of Jesus the world, then and the world now, receives exactly what it needs.  Not money, not power, not might, but much, much more.

We who are so prone to despair have received the gift of hope…

We who respond to disagreements with wars of words or armaments have received the gift of peace…

We who so easily become despondent when life is difficult have received the gift of joy…

And we who can be so cold to the needs of those around us have received the gift of love.  And they all came wrapped up, and presented to us in Jesus—Emmanuel.  God with us.

Conclusion

Gift giving can be tricky—but here’s the thing— it doesn’t have to be.

Thinking back to the video we saw earlier, the one thing we saw clearly was the joy the givers had in giving the gift.  They quickly got over the surprise that the gift wasn’t for them, and then embraced the excitement and thrill that came with getting to give the gift away—away to people who were shocked, skeptical, and surprised—but who all became thankful and joyful themselves.

That was as Christmas should be—and that is what Christmas always is when we let God give to us, and then share with all—even strangers—that which we have been given.

*******

          So if we seek to give as God has given—which is by giving so that a deep need is met—gift giving is never tricky.  The gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love never disappoint.  The gift of Jesus always meets a deep need.  For God’s gift giving is always the just right, perfect, gift.

Merry Christmas.  Amen.

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