“Christmas comes this time each year,” croons the singer on the radio, as if in our American culture we need to be reminded. The Black Friday deals, the Cyber Monday steals, all hit our electronic inboxes before Thanksgiving. But the shopping malls and online vendors might be late to the party. Why? It’s simple. Like many grandmothers, ours usually begins her Christmas shopping in June, (which leads me to a new appreciation of Groupon, where you can find a mega deal any day you’d like). According to Statista, 38% of consumers began holiday shopping in October1. Why though? Is it to get a great deal in an economy that is feeling the impact of lay-offs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? That is definitely a possibility, but there seems to be a deeper telltale.
Reflect on what phrases may be heard most often in relation to giving and getting gifts. “It had your name written all over it”. “I said to myself, ‘he will go crazy over this’”. “This is perfect for her”. “I had to get it”. “Wait; let me get a picture of you opening this one”. What about the hopes and dreams of the receiver? “I really need …”. “I would love to have…”. “I’ll be really disappointed if no one gives me…”. Or what about the phrases many people dread hearing when getting a gift? “I had no idea what to get you”. “You are so hard to buy for…”. “I’m never sure if you will like it”. Or even, “I was sure it would fit, so I cut off the tags and didn’t keep the receipt”. Of course there are the indicators that a gift given did not hit the right spot: the frozen smile, the inquisitive but friendly question to understand more of why one just received said gift, and the dreaded but pregnant silence followed by a vaguely exclaimed, ‘Oh!’”. Or what about the child who appeared to have had all hopes and dreams crushed on that bright Christmas morn all while a sibling happily declares, “You remembered!”? Even as I wrote this article, my eighteen-year-old texted me about a super cool VOX AP2CR amPlug 2 Classic Rock Guitar/Bass Headphone Amplifier he wanted…
On the surface, the answer may appear to be that we seek to give or get joy; and there is an element of truth in that endeavor. What parent isn’t thrilled when their four-year-old jumps up and howls with excitement over a particular gift or their teenagers are positively over-the-moon with glee over receiving their first iPhone? One anniversary, my husband and I were shopping (in October), and I spotted a gorgeous sweater in a little fashion boutique. I tried it on and confirmed it looked fabulous, and my husband agreed. But the sweater was expensive, and much to the sales woman’s disappointment, I asked my husband to come back and get it for me before Christmas. We had three small children after all. Several weeks later, my husband gave me a peck on the cheek and headed back to the little stylish shop. Day by day went by and I walked by that coveted gift bag with its pretty tissue paper and felt like he and I had a wonderful secret. I would hug him and kiss him in anticipation and tell him I was excited. Finally the day came. The children hovered around as I opened their father’s gift to me… And it was a sweater, but not the sweater. I fought back the tears and looked at my husband who was nonchalantly waiting for my response. He must have read the disappointment on my face and simply said, “They didn’t have the one you wanted when I went back”. To say my heart was in a bad place at that particular moment was an understatement.
In reality, what we all want and hope for is the ultimate gift that will satisfy. The gift that indicates we are fully known and loved by the giver; the gift that fully communicates our love and adoration to the receiver; the gift that signifies the exclusivity of the relationship between gift and giver and that the emotion and affection represented through the gift is mutually shared and understood.
But there is one problem. Gifts don’t last forever and may not come in the size, color or model we desire. Rarely is the gift perfect, and even rarer is the perfect giver. In fact, the giver of a wonderful gift might not even share the same affection for the receiver in days or years to come. This is not so with the Giver of Life. The Bible tells us that God created us and knows us intimately.2 He made us in His image to be in relationship with Him.3 We were made by Him and for Him.4 Listen to the love and intimacy our God has for us in Psalm 139:1-18:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.5
What beautiful and precious love! No human gift giver can give us this type of intimacy and know and care for the deepest depths of our soul. In knowing the depths of our souls, God provided for our sin sickness through Jesus.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”6
And Romans 3:23-25a
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”7
And John 1:12-13
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
It’s mind-blowing: Given the right to belong to God because God wills it. And look at Ephesians 2: 4-10.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So when my son texted me about the guitar amplifier I felt joy at the prospect of providing joy to him. Why? Because I am made in the image and likeness of a Creator God who is good and delights to give good gifts to his children.8 If you would like to know more about a relationship with your Creator God through the ultimate gift of Jesus, please reach out as we would love to help you in your new walk with Christ. You are welcome to join us for Sunday services! Our livestream is also still available as well. If you would like a pastor to call you, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with us through our webpage at cornerstonejoppa.org/contact-us. God bless you and have a Merry Christmas!
1 Statista. When consumers are most likely to begin holiday shopping in the United States as of September 2020. Statista Research Department. Published online Nov 30, 2020. Accessed December 15, 2020 from https://www.statista.com/statistics/243495/period-when-us-consumers-began-shopping-for-the-holiday-season/#:~:text=This%20statistic%20displays%20the%20period,end%20of%20October%20in%202020
2 Psalm 139:1-18
3 Genesis 5:1-2
4 Romans 11:36
5 All Bible quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV Text Edition: 2016. Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Accessed on December 15, 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage
6 John 3:16-18
7 Romans 3:23-25a
8 Matthew 7:11