I met with a group of retired folks this week, as a part of a ministry in our church. I pulled together some old Christmas ice-breaker items, and thought we would have a pleasant discussion about the meaning of Christmas with a quick question asking everyone about the most important gift they had ever received.
Jack, an 80 year old member of the church, began to share a story about receiving a bicycle when he was 8 years old. After 72 years, he still remembers the expectation of the gift, and the receiving of it. Several others shared similar stories, as well as the disappointments around gift giving or receiving. I was struck by the sense of the importance of gifts to us. There seemed to be more of a kingdom perspective which at first I did not grasp until Jack, tears in his eyes, recounted a 72-year old story about a gift desired and received with great joy.
Those of us who have been in and around the church for a while tend to focus on the absence of Christ in the holiday activities. But the real message of Jack’s story has to do with the search for meaning and fulfillment in our lives. Gifts we give in honor of a birthday or holiday may make someone joyful and they may remember them for some time. But there’s only one gift that can fully satisfy; and yet it seems I talk about everything else and miss that point. Christmas is only about gift giving, because it is only God’s gift that satisfies the lonely, meaning-starved human heart. That’s the message of Christmas.
It wouldn’t matter if Christmas was held on July 7th. It doesn’t matter that Christ is absent from media presentations. The sad thing is that Christ and God’s gift tend to be absent from our lives when we encounter people. People don’t always see in me that it is only God’s gift that’s truly satisfies. I had forgotten until Jack’s tearful reminder of a precious gift given so long ago how much Christ’s redemptive work really satisfies the longing of our hearts.
We praise God for His generosity to us, which He demonstrated by His act of a substitutionary atonement and His grace and daily mercies. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).