Giving gifts is one of the most common practices at Christmas time, especially in the United States.  The amount of money, time and resources spent on Christmas gifts ranges from insignificant to astronomical.  And although there are many who may deny it is happening, I believe the great gift dilemma  is faced by millions of families each year.

Every year, I hear the comments, concerns and conversations that happen among shoppers as they try to decide what to give, who to give to and how much to give.  I have been the recipient of many wrapped holiday presents and have also had Christmas mornings when there was only one gift under the tree with my name on it.  I have shopped for hours and days in past years for just the right gift and I have spent months working on homemade gifts to give to others. Regardless, I have often felt like I missed someone, gave gifts that were insignificant and even scored home runs with some of the presents I presented.  Gifts at Christmas have been beautiful, disappointing, overwhelming and downright frustrating.

The recent trend toward gift exchanges that include items that no one really wants, but can’t stand to throw away or whimsical items that might strike someone’s fancy is just part of the theme where giving gifts is what its all about.  Garages and storage units are filled with items received but unneeded.  I have personally received gifts that were obviously given because I was on the list, but there was no thought given as to whether it would be something I could use or enjoy.  One year my husband and I received a gift which was a blue light Kmart special – a flat sheet for a double bed – price tag denoting the great deal still intact.  Sadly, we didn’t own a double bed and the gift sat in the linen closet for years until we finally used it to wrap furniture when we were moving.  The $3.00 spent said volumes.

I’m not sure when the gift giving tradition began to lose momentum in my life, but I know that it was directly related to the realization that my relationships with others was not dependent upon what I gave at the holidays.  I also realized that if there was an expectation on the part of someone else that I give them something in exchange for friendship, our relationship had bigger problems than Christmas gifts!  This revelation stretched beyond friends and acquaintances and included my spouse and close family members.  My gifts to them at Christmas are not the definition of my devotion or love.

I still struggle, though, with the constant pressure to give.  It isn’t spoken aloud, but is intimated in conversations, advertisements, and sometimes in the glances received when a gift is given to me.  And then there is the pressure to receive.  “What did you get for Christmas” is the common question when Christmas Day has passed.  The pictures on Facebook of Christmas trees with presents stacked around, under and behind are a constant reminder this season is about gifts.  Or is it?

Imagine we had no reason to buy anything for anyone at Christmastime.  Imagine our homes were filled with laughter, joy and peace as we joined together to celebrate the beautiful gift of Jesus Christ the Saviour’s entrance into this world to remedy humanity’s fallen condition.  What if we weren’t constantly looking for the perfect gift, listening for hints regarding what is expected or regarding our credit card balance with dismay?  What if we felt the joy of giving to others when they have a need or just for the joy of giving, regardless of whether it is Christmas time or June?  What if our children equated Christmas with Jesus and not with what they would receive in material possessions?  What if we bought that special gift for a friend in October and gave it to them just for the encouragement we know it will bring?  What if the celebration of Jesus’ birth was actually a celebration of the gift that was given from a God who can only be worshipped by a world that has no greater need than to know His love?

Gifts have become the highlight of the holiday season when the greatest gift has already been given and yet remains unwrapped in so many people’s lives.  While we proclaim Jesus’ birth, there are many who still believe they are unworthy to receive what has been completed for all of humanity.  As we emphasize the exchange of material goods, the headline will always be the great exchange that took place at the cross.   The expensive gifts wrapped with glittering bows fall short of the eternal value Christ has brought for all to experience when they find the only source of Life and Love.

In reality, I am a gift-giver.  I give many gifts throughout the year.  I have no reason to demand others halt with the traditions where gifts are passed around or Christmas treats are shared.  But I do not believe there is one season for giving and receiving.  I believe we have been given what we could never afford and when we receive it, we become both the recipient and the one through which the gift will be given over and over again.  Every dollar I make, every ounce of energy I experience, every breath I breathe and every thought I think are made possible because of the heartbeat of the Spirit of God dwelling deep within.  Since I am no longer the prime mover and shaker of my life and destiny, all that I have, know, experience, gain and receive is available to be presented as the Creator desires.

As we shop, wrap, unwrap and put away the many gifts under the tree, may we be ever ready to tell those we love, know and meet that the gift of Jesus Christ still remains unrivaled and ever present for those who just believe He is.  No fancy words are needed and the presentation is less important than we could imagine.  If you know Jesus as your life, you are the package that is carrying the number one gift humanity needs to receive throughout the year. God’s divine love and eternal peace is never out of reach or taped up to disguise the contents.  Freely you have received……freely give.