When I was a kid, I was pretty gift-obsessed. I took full advantage of Christmas and wrote out long wish lists year after year. When presents started piling under the tree, I’d seek mine out, inspect their size and shape - even give them a shake or two - to try and figure out what items I could mentally check off my wish list. These behaviors were certainly fun in the moment, but they also took most of the surprise of Christmas morning. By then, I wasn’t so excited by all of those things.
As I’ve gotten older, my wish list has changed from desired items to needed items and is now essentially non-existent. Working in retail during the holidays played a big role in this. Watching customers fight over things and argue with salespeople and other customers over things sure left a bad taste in my mouth. That’s not the Christmas I want to celebrate.
After becoming a Christian, I saw a new side to Christmas that I had previously missed. For me, it’s become more about responding to God’s Christmas gift to us - Jesus - by sharing that gift of love and hope with others. My favorite way to do this has been by packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.
First of all, I love the challenge! Initially packing a shoebox seems limiting - there are so many things I’d love to send but literally can’t because they won’t fit -, but once you start getting creative, it’s amazing to see how much can actually fit in a single box. The fellowship is another big draw for me. This year I asked family, friends, and co-workers to help me pack 20 boxes. With all of the donations and monetary contributions, a group of us ended up packing 25 boxes! The joy was contagious in my apartment that morning as we worked to get those shoeboxes ready. But what I love most of all is imagining the excitement these children will feel when they receive their shoebox. For many, it will be their first present, the first time they feel loved and like they matter. And what thing from a Christmas list could be better than that?
Written by Whitney
I’ll admit it: I love presents. I love opening the box and the anxious wonder before the gift is even seen. I love seeing the joy on other people’s faces when they open their gifts. And yes — I love the things inside! But there can also be gifts I take for granted. Gifts like running water, plenty of food, and a place to call home. However, my most under appreciated gift is the most important one: family.
Written by Ben
Have you ever gotten a gift that was extra special? What made it special?
I’m sure that special gift was nice, but the reason it was extra special had to do with something other than the actual gift. I bet the reason (the why) for the gift was more meaningful than the gift (the what) because of who gave it to you or why they gave it to you.
The opposite is true as well. Even a good gift, given with no love, can leave us feeling sour. I think that’s because when it comes to giving and receiving gifts, “the why” behind the gift always matters more than “the what.”
This time of year it’s easy to let “the what” replace “the why.” We hang lights. We go to parties. We give gifts. But when Christmas becomes more about the lights, parties, and presents, it begins to lose its magic.
So what’s “the why”? Well for me it’s captured quite well in a popular verse: John 3:16.
Have you ever received a compliment that really mattered to you? It’s one thing to hear a compliment from an acquaintance, but another to hear it from someone near and dear. When a parent, coach, spouse, or deeply respected peer says “good job,” it echoes in our souls longer.
In the New Testament, God is described as Heavenly Father - the perfect parent. The one who cares for us deeper than we can imagine. The one who cries when we cry. The one who celebrates when we succeed. The one offering a hand and some hope when we fall down.
The gift of Christmas begins with the quality of the one giving - God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave”
If the person giving wasn’t enough, the reason for God’s gift should be. Giving and generosity are at the heart of what it means to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. God gave because God loves. And it's not just a general love, but a personal one -
for the world.
A friend once carved for me a personalized walking stick (sounds weird, but it was really cool). All over this walking stick were my favorite verses and other tidbits that had been carved by hand. Partly I loved the gift itself, but mostly I loved that my friend took the time to make the gift. Over a decade later I can still look at that walking stick and feel the echo of being loved in my soul.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”*
The truth is God could have given anything and it would’ve been great because of who gave it and why it was given. The amazing thing about Christmas is it combines the greatest of all three: the who, the why, and the what. The person behind the gift is a Heavenly Father desperately in love with the world he created. The reason behind the gift is the very love driving the Father to give all he can to what he loves. And of course, the gift itself - a Son sent to redeem the world.
It’s hard to say “the what” in this scenario outweighs “the why” because it’s “the why” of Christmas that makes “the what” so special. Even still, it’s one incredible gift!
*The rest of this verse is quite good as well - worth a read.
Written by Mark
It’s so easy to make this time of year all about gifts. Letters to Santa are written. Lines of deal-seekers begin to form outside of retailers before the turkey has settled in their stomachs. Online shopping carts are filled in anticipation of Cyber Monday markdowns.
In the church, we call this time of year Advent. It’s a time where we anticipate something very different than deals and markdowns. We look forward to a brighter day and a greater future. We await a gift far better than anything Best Buy or Amazon can offer.
So what if during the season of Advent we stopped thinking about material gifts we want to receive and focused on using our God-given gifts to bless others? In this blog series, our contributors will explore just that. Stay tuned.
Written by Whitney and Mark
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.