Many things are associated with Christmas: lights, trees, presents, food, Santa Claus, family gatherings, and sometimes even the birth of Christ.
Through the years, the giving of Christmas presents has changed. Growing up, we didn’t make Christmas lists. When presents started appearing under the tree I did my best to figure out what might be in them by shaking and squeezing them. The presents were a surprise when we opened them. Our children’s generation grew up writing detailed letters to Santa, telling him what they expected to be in the presents appearing under the tree. Most of the time they got what was on their list and weren’t surprised at all.
One year I decided to change that. I put Todd’s name on all of Lisa’s packages and Lisa’s name on all of Todd’s packages. They shook and rattled and squeezed and had no idea what was in their package. As we prepared to open their presents, I stopped them and said, there was some confusion and all of Lisa’s presents were really Todd’s and all of Todd’s were Lisa’s.
Fast forward to today’s children. They not only make out a list, but it is very detailed, not just any old doll or game. They are very specific about getting just what they want. And many say, “I want money or gift cards.” When the present is opened, there is no surprise.
The tradition of Christmas presents is said to have come from those three wise men who presented to the baby Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Not only were these three gifts a surprise, the appearance of these wise men was also a surprise. I’ve often thought that these were weird gifts for a baby lying in a manger in the barn.
In addition to the honor and status implied by the value of the gifts of the magi, scholars think that these three were chosen for their special spiritual symbolism about Jesus himself—gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a spice used in anointing a body being prepared for burial. Frankincense was also known for medicinal uses. And of course gold was something practical and useful for this new family who were far from their home and about to take a journey that would take them even farther away.
While these gifts brought to Jesus by the wise men might seem odd in our world, I believe the most important gift was not in a beautifully decorated box as often depicted in today’s Christmas pageants. It was simply the gift of their “presence.”
Over the years I have come to believe that the best gifts aren’t found in letters to Santa, or those Christmas lists. They aren’t the most advertised toy, tool or kitchen gadget. It is the gift of “presence” that we long for. I encourage each and every one of you to give the gift of “presence” this Christmas. Merry Christmas to you and your families!