December 20, 1989
“What did you get for Christmas?”
I’m certain at least one person will ask me that question again this year, but I’m not sure how I’ll answer it, at least after hearing about a certain family tradition. It seems members of this one family each put the gifts they are giving into a separate box to place under the tree. When the day comes, they take turns taking the gifts from their box and personally giving them to the person whose name is on the tag. If the person is not present, the giver leaves the gift in the box, undelivered until it can be done personally. If the recipient is gathered around the tree with the others, the giver tells that person how much they mean to them and how happy they are to be able to give them this gift. The receiver responds by taking it, saying thank you, opening and showing it to everyone. After all enjoy that gift, they go on to give another person opportunity to give.
When all the gifts are opened, the family joins hands and prays, giving thanks to God that they are able to show their love for one another by both giving and receiving. And God is of course thanked for the wonderful gift of His Son, the One that Christmas is all about.
As I think about this tradition, my eyes fill with tears of joy at the beauty and simplicity that it represents. The pattern was set nearly 2000 years ago with God as the Giver. He too placed His gift in a unique location, not under a tree but in a person. That Gift was Himself, born in a manger, taking up residence in a human body. Wrapped in that parcel, He was one of us yet also God with us, Jesus Christ, perfect, without sin, all that man was intended to be, all that God is... gift-wrapped for a lost and needy world.
This Gift also has a name tag. On that tag is the name of every man, woman and child ever born; the gift is for all. But the Giver does not force it upon anyone. It is placed only in the hearts of those willing to receive it.
The Spirit of God makes the offer. To all of the people named on the tag, He individually whispers truth: truth about their sin and unbelief, truth about the righteousness of God and the judgment to come, truth about the cross and the resurrection. If that truth is believed, it puts the person in the place to receive, not physically gathered around a tree but spiritually around the focal point of history, the Cross. The Israelites of the Old Testament looked ahead to it; we look back, both seeing the one Gift God offered freely as atonement for our sin. When we open our hearts to Him, the Lord Jesus Christ is placed there... forever.
Of course with His Gift comes His Words of love. It’s His deepest pleasure to give: “For God so loved the world that He gave...” Imagine His joy when we receive! He says all the host of heaven shout and sing when one sinner repents.
All who already have the Gift rejoice with the new recipient, sharing the wonder of this precious treasure, joining together with praise and adoration for the Giver and for His Gift.
After thinking about this tradition and what it implies, I do know how to answer that question. What did I get for Christmas? Not this year, but nearly 20 years ago, God gave me His Son. The joy of that gift grows deeper each Christmas, making giving and receiving much richer -- because both are reflections of the Only Gift that matters.