If you have ever read Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, you will remember that some people in this world receive and interpret love in the form of receiving gifts. By way of self-disclosure, I am one of those blessed people. I love gifts. I love receiving gifts. I love it when someone knows me well enough to give me just the right gift. This is so much the case that, for many of us love-as-gift people, we can remember almost every significant gift received and can also recall many of the little gifts given for seemingly no reason at all. And to be clear, I don’t love stuff. Simply giving me something when you could have given me the right thing does not communicate love. No, love (in my worldview) is a well-thought out gift given at the appropriate time in the appropriate way.
Which is why I think people need to consider the weight of importance that Christmas plays in the process of communicating love through gift giving.
A few years ago a preached a sermon that addressed this issue head on. I was then as I am now — concerned that many people don’t give gifts. Instead, they default into merely exchanging packages. And there is a significant difference between the two. Think about it. When you receive an energy bill it usually comes in a package — an envelope. But rarely do you draw the family together to sing songs whilst you open your energy bill and then wonder at the amazement of what all could take place upon seeing this beautiful gift. No, you have simply opened a package.
Gift giving is an entirely different experience all together. It is marked by a significant process of exchange wherein both gift giver and gift receiver rejoice in the exchange. Think about any gift you have given — aren’t you tempted to argue that giving the gift was as much or more joyful than receiving the gift? Gifts are different than packages.
But back to my concerns. I have identified at least three competing motivations that distract us from giving good gifts and turn us into package exchangers. And the result of this perversion of gift giving is significant:
- Some give out of duty. This is not a gift, it is a chore.
- Others give out of fear. This is not a gift, it is a peace offering.
- Still others give out of a desire to seek favor with the recipient. This is not a gift, it is a bribe.
A good question to ask yourself, especially as you move into the Christmas season is, “What is my motivation in handing out this package?” Is it duty? You sense an obligation to keep up with the Joneses in the form of reciprocal giving? Or is it out of fear — my kids will hate me if I don’t give them this certain thing? Or is it out of a desire to seek favor — I need to make it up to my spouse/son/daughter since I have been a lousy spouse/dad?
One of the continually amazing things about God the Father is that He has demonstrated gift giving as love for us in the way He sent His Son to the earth. John 3:16-17 says this, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
It pleased God as the Giver to send His Son to earth to live a perfect life, teach perfect Truth, and to die and rise again. And the recipients of this Gift — humanity — rejoice in both the gift, the exchange, and the Giver of the gifts.
So this Christmas, may you imitate God in the way you give gifts to your family and friends. May you have as much or more joy in the giving than those who will experience joy in the receiving.