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Becoming Givers: Christmas Presents and Christ’s Presence

I love giving people presents, especially Christmas presents. Of course, I equally adore receiving presents. But there’s something utterly delightful in presenting someone with something you know will brighten their day and bring a smile to their face. It’s that burst of affectionate glee when you see something in a store, or online (or maybe you even make it yourself) and your first thought is, “Wow, So-and-So is going to love this!” Unfortunately, I can’t cite any recent examples, as all of the people I am giving gifts to are liable to read this article, and I certainly can’t stand for the ruining of surprises. But as I get rolling with Christmas shopping this year, it strikes me that the tradition of thoughtful, intentional gift giving is a lovely, but incomplete picture of a narrative that runs much deeper.

There are many reasons we give gifts at Christmas: it’s a way of showing people we love them, of celebrating, and of exercising thoughtfulness towards others. Ultimately, it’s a reminder and reflection of the gift of God’s dwelling on earth among us. This is the story that runs beneath all the other reasons, and it asks something greater of us than the tradition of gift giving often acknowledges. It asks us to give our entire lives—our whole hearts and all our moments—as a gift. Because in reality, our lives themselves are gifts, as are the charity, hope, beauty, and goodness that color them. Christ has given us all this in extravagant abundance; indeed, he gave us himself.  That which we celebrate is the wonder of wonders—the gospel itself, to which no other joy other can compare—that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV). God became man, and in uniting human nature with the divine, He redeemed it. In doing so, he redeemed us, and “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16, ESV).

What are we to do with this wondrous gift (besides rejoicing eternally)? We are to give as Christ gave. As Hopkins reminds us, we are to “give beauty back, back to God . . . beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.” Christina Rossetti’s “In the bleak midwinter” frames this well: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; / If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; / Yet what I can, I give Him: give my heart.” In giving our hearts to God, we offer our very selves for transformation. By the abundance of His grace we are changed into people of generosity and granted a reservoir of grace from which we give to others. We give of our time, our energy, our hearts, and yes—our dollars, too. In the end, though, what we give is our lives as a gift to the world: not by performing a disconnected series of actions, but by living a kind of life that is meant to be fluid, consistent, and entirely permeated by generosity, charity, and sacrifice. For as Christ has shown us, true charity is prepared to bear a cross for the sake of the beloved.

We know people like this (or at least I hope and pray that you know at least one person like this). They are the golden souls: the kind of people who look into your eyes when you speak, and listen attentively even to your dullest drivel. To borrow words from Lewis, “You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you.” The sort of person whose loving kindness and quiet peace seem miraculously to absorb the angst, ungraciousness, and malice of others and yet remain unaltered in the least. The kind of people whose daily lives and projected futures simultaneously aim to do good in their communities, to bless others, and to be of service. The kind of people whose very presence grants joy and comfort to those around them. We know the takers—they are the kind of people who tend to suck the life out of us. But these, these are the givers. Which will we be?

As we give and receive Christmas gifts this year, let us remember that our gift giving is a mere fleeting shadow of the extravagantly generous lives we are called to live in Christ. This is the ever-magnificent, astoundingly beautiful Story of Stories, and by the grace of God, it is our story. Let us seek him above all and in all; let us pray that we might be transformed by his grace; let us be filled with the beauty of Christ’s birth, death, and ultimate sacrifice, that we might be prepared to give from the depths of our being.

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