Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
Over the past week or so I have asked a plethora of folk why we give gifts at Christmas. I have heard almost as many answers.
Because it's what we've always done.
Because Jesus received gifts from the wise men (Never mind the fact that that story is not part of the Christmas story as Jesus was anywhere from two to four years old when the Magi came).
Because it's fun.
Because Christmas is a time to show Christian charity upon others.
I don't know.
Because we are celebrating God giving us the greatest gift in Jesus.
Because God is the Great Giver, and being created in His image, we are to be generous also. Christmas is a time to acknowledge that and give gifts to others.
There were other answers as well along with many variations of the above. Personally, I am leaning towards the last answer right now. God is the Great Giver which is especially evident in the Christmas story. He gives perfectly and liberally (don't read into that work, you political pundits!). We, as humans, being created in the imago Dei should be generous givers as well. Through our giving, God's generosity to the world and to His church can be echoed and heard. It will be a shift in my thinking when buying gifts (for any occasion), though. I think I need to remember a few things:
1) God gave us a great gift in Jesus the Christ. His loving generosity is shown throughout the Christmas story. How generous are we at Christmas or any other time of the year. Are we more willing to shell out 1000 bones for a new HDTV rather than helping those in need? While it is not bad to have nice stuff, we need to be equally willing (if not more so) to give to others. I think this is a prime way to battle American/Western materialism.
2) God's gift in Jesus had enormous meaning. The entire life of Christ echoes back through the Old Testament and transformed all of human history. Our gifts, especially at Christmas, should have meaning. I am not saying all gifts should be homemade, but they should at least (pardon the expression) "be from the heart".
Why exchange gift cards? All we are doing is exchanging cash. I am not opposed to gift cards, though. Some friends gave Amy and I a gift card last year for Christmas with one stipulation: we had to spend it on something we wanted...not just something we needed. Their gift, a simple Target Gift Card, did have much thought and consideration attached to it.
We have to always try to give a gift that is equal in value to a gift we are being given. Why? So we don't feel indebted? What gift could we ever give God that would equal in value the one He gave us? How many times have we not planned on giving a gift until we receive one from someone? Christmas should not be a battle of human one-upmanship, but we cannot handle the concept of feeling "indebted" to someone we know (although Visa and MasterCard are okay!).
Have we ever given a gift in order that we might receive one in kind? I think this goes back to not wanting to feel "indebted" to another that we know.
While choosing a gift may be difficult and take time, isn't the person the gift is for worth it? We should put thought and meaning in our gifts to each other. Exactly how much thought goes into buying a gift card? The biggest decisions involved in that are how much and which card. One of my favorite Christmas gifts is one Amy and I received last year from one Pablo Butterworth. They were Christmas decorations from SE Asia which he picked up while on mission with God the previous summer. They had meaning: our mutual love of missions and Pablo's willingness to go serve others and God in an international setting.
3) God giving Jesus for man's redemption brought Him much pleasure. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For in Him [Christ], the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1.19). Giving gifts (at Christmas especially) should bring us great joy! There should be joy at seeing the expression on another's face when they open a gift that has meaning! There should be joy at blessing another when they did not expect it nor cannot repay!
4) Gifts really are not about the amount spent on them (see point 2). Amy was talking to a former co-worker a few weeks ago. The co-worker wished she had the money to buy her family everything they wanted so they could have a happy Christmas. How sad a situation that a happy Christmas depends on getting lots of stuff! Last year, Amy and I spent very little on each other due to budget constraints. We each got a stocking...that's it. BUT, it was one of the best Christmases I have ever had.
Christmas is more than presents...I think each of us can admit that. I think, though, after much thought and reflection, that Christmas without gifts loses some of its meaning. Giving gifts, I am convinced, helps us to honor Christ by reflecting and echoing the generosity God has displayed throughout human history, but especially 2000 (or so) years ago in Bethlehem. The gifts do not have to be an XBox 360 or anything that costs more than some macaroni noodles, glue and construction paper. They should have meaning and joy. They should draw each closer to Christ.
Why Christmas gifts? I think they help us see Christ in Christmas by reflecting God at that first Christmas. I think they help others see Christ as the beautiful, priceless that He is by receiving gifts that have meaning and thought behind them.