From the Very Rev. Kristi Maulden
It is amazing the amount of pressure we put on ourselves at this time of year. I know some people maintain their sanity and calm. But there are many more of us who run ourselves ragged trying to make Christmas perfect and meaningful for family and friends. And there is the ideal of the “perfect” present. That is a lot of pressure, finding the perfect present.
Why is finding that certain gift so important? I remember when the boys were young, my husband and I, as parents, wanted to see our kids’ eyes light up with happiness. What is that one thing that would bring them that joy? What would they just love and know that we loved them? That sort of validation comes at a cost. We place high expectations on our ability to find the perfect gift and on our children giving back to us the glee that we anticipate. I wonder if we have missed the whole point.
Gift giving in ancient times was part of beginning, maintaining and restoring relationships. The act of giving was the important part. It did not matter if the gift were fancy, or expensive, the next new thing. What mattered was that the giver wanted to be in relationship, in fellowship, with the receiver. Jesus was part of this culture. He knew the importance of building up and reconciling people to each other and to God. He was able to give people sight, release from illness, the ability to be restored to community. And, his final gift was his life. This gift was given not so much so that we would feel bad about falling short of God’s glory, but given instead that we might be in relationship with a loving Creator. This gift has so many wonderful layers, wrapped up and covered in grace upon grace.
The second part to this ancient practice was the offering of a meal. Jesus showed that practice over and over again in his life here on earth as well. He ate with friends and sinners and Pharisees. He sat people down on hillsides and fed them bread and the words that lead to eternal life. He wanted to invite everyone to the feast that feeds us with the spiritual food that we need for our souls. This invitation we share as part of our worship each Sunday. This is the ancient feast of maintaining and reconciling our life with God.
So how does this translate into our culture of gift giving? I think we should be careful to do the mental shift: it is not about the gift itself. The beauty is in the act of giving. It is in the careful wrapping up of our love and offering it to each other. It is in the presence of people we love around the table. It is in our remembering those close by and those far away. When we receive a gift, we should pay attention to this reality: the one who gives desires to be in fellowship with us. And in an increasingly disconnected world, this is the most important thing.