More Than Presents
Christmas is filled with traditions. So much so that we don’t often think about the origins of those traditions and the reasons behind them. Even the day that we celebrate Christmas is more tradition than fact. The early church fathers reportedly chose the date to coincide with Roman mid-winter festivals as a way for Christians to brighten the long winter days.
One of the traditions of Christmas is the giving of presents. The origin of this tradition is often tied to the gifts given by the magi who visited the Christ Child. Their gifts were both practical and prophetic, meant to recognize who he was and what he came to do and be. Gold for a King, frankincense for worship and myrrh as an embalming spice. This is a far cry from the frenzied practice of our current culture. I recently heard that the majority of Americans will go into debt purchasing presents for family and friends, taking most of the year to pay them off. The obsession with giving and receiving presents obscures the true meaning of the practice. It distorts the relationship between giving and receiving. We stress over whether someone will like our offerings, are they enough, or too much? Will they like it, and by association like me? Will they reciprocate with a gift of equal or greater value? The stress is endless.
However, a better take on the giving of gifts is a recognition of what God did for us. Christ’s coming to earth was the ultimate gift, providing for the salvation of humanity and the reconciliation of its relationship with God. This changes the focus of our celebration from presents to presence. In explanation of the angel’s message to Joseph, Matthew refers to the words of Isaiah. “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:23 (NIV2011)
God with us, that’s a presence that is a present for us all.
Imagine the impact of living within the reality of God being present with us each moment of every day. We are never alone, never without strength, never without promise, never unloved for God is with us.
The words of the often unsung third verse of Martin Luther’s Christmas carol “Away in a Manger” speak very simply, yet eloquently of the desire for this presence.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with thee there.