“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Isaiah 9:6-7 KJV
This is the greatest GIFT, the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ Who suffered on an unspeakably cruel cross and died to pay our sin debt—then rose victorious to give us eternal life, HIS abundant life now and forever! I received this priceless gift of God’s Grace forty-four years ago this coming January. The GREATEST GIFT!
I was blessed to have parents and a closely bonded extended family and friends who loved life, valued life, and lived by Godly principles. My grandparents were Bible believing Christians, and in later years I was greatly persuaded that my parents also received the greatest gift—The Lord Jesus Christ.
In my early childhood, family Christmases were somewhat shadowed by a tragedy that had occurred before I was born: my sister, Shirley, had died at age two on Christmas Day. Yet Christmas was always a time for celebration, hope, and joy. We loved being together, we loved the music, we loved the Christmas Story. And we loved giving and receiving gifts.
In light of the fact that we believers are recipients of the Greatest Gift in Heaven and on the earth, because we are walking around everyday with the very life of God in the Person of His Holy Spirit, the most natural thing to do is to give gifts to family members and friends. Up until I believed in the Lord Jesus, I naturally loved giving gifts; it was the most wonderful and fun thing to do. But once I became a believer, God’s Spirit enhanced and blessed our family traditions in such a way that I was, and still am,”over the top” with His joy over our family Christmases.
The Christmas worship services, the music (decades of singing in choirs), favorite recipes (which our children looked forward to each year and still serve to this day), the gatherings with laughter and games we played with the children (and still play, as new family games appear on a regular basis), and our tradition of GIVING became so endowed with implicit depth of meaning and God’s love, that it is inconceivable to imagine any other way to live.
As Joe and I raised our six children, extra people at the family dinner table (year round, not just at Christmas) was a given. Friends were family. If a child or young adult friend of one of our children hung out in our home, he or she automatically became one of the loved ones; they were included in the food, hilarious games, and the Christmas giving.
What is more fun than giving and receiving? It’s not about spending a lot of cash. Although exceptions have been made over the years for some special item or when there is a specific need, it cannot be about spending huge sums. We have, to date, forty-nine immediate family members, not counting myself. But even if we were just a handful of folks, it would still be all about loving each person and deciding what would be fun to give—rather than just blowing money.
I love to make gifts. For years good gifts came out of my oven or off my pantry shelves where bountiful jams and jellies were preserved. Now we have children, their spouses, and their children who share yummy kitchen creations. Although I still bake some things, now I am very happy to paint a watercolor, knit a hat for a child (or an adult), design and knit funky, colorful scarves for all ages, and share my homemade soaps in those lovely gift boxes (just inside the door as you enter JoAnn Fabrics, and at other outlets as well).
Throughout the year, my antennae is up when I browse at art fairs, antique malls, and even rummage sales. By Christmas each year, I’ve managed to acquire a stash for family members and friends who appreciate lovely vintage art glass or a hand crafted piece of stained glass, mosaic, pottery, whatever.
And then there is that fantastic treat, popular as of recent years, the Gift Certificate. Although that may seem to be a cop-out to some, I think the certs are wonderful. I tailor them to individuals. Some of our young families do a lot of home repair and renovation. Home Depot. One family member loves Starbucks, but being a diligently frugal young lady she will pass up that luxury on her budget. I get tremendous pleasure out of giving her a Starbucks cert for her birthday or sometimes Christmas—and picturing her savoring her powerful coffee and perhaps a sweet. And who doesn’t love Barnes & Noble? Books and music—something for every preference and taste.
In our mushrooming family, Joe and I have seventeen great-grandchildren ranging from age twelve down to nine months. Babies typically get little cuddly animals from this Granny—stuffed, not live although I’d love to be given permission to pick out a real kitten or puppy. That is yet to happen! The other children? Books, puzzles, crayons, etc. It’s easy, almost a “DUH”, to find gifts for young people. In fact, all ages are easy, when you long to give some little token of your love and thoughtful consideration.
I constantly find wonderful cooking and crafting books (mostly like new) at a nearby St. Vinnie’s. Again, these gift books are tailored to the recipients and their hobbies and interests. How rewarding is that! I have delighted someone’s heart, for all of $2.19 or thereabout.
Underlying it all is the fact that we love because He first loved us. We give because He has given to us—that Greatest Gift of salvation and eternal life. Giving is sharing. When we are filled to overflowing with God’s gift of love, we simply can’t not share with those whom we love. When we are filled to overflowing with God’s Word and His gift of grace, we are delighted to graciously receive and enjoy the gifts which our loved ones have thoughtfully selected or made for us.
Christmas! A stress-free time of joy. That doesn’t mean that our circumstances are all perfect, at all times. For many years our celebration centered at our home, and I fed a lot of people. Granted, sometimes I felt a bit stun-gunned when the season was over, because I had spent physical and emotional energy far beyond any that I possessed. But God has always given me what I needed, to serve Him by serving people. And stun-gunned though I was, it was with a sense of purpose and great blessing that I “collapsed” into a quieter routine (as quiet as a routine can be when raising six children). I knew that God was the center of my giving (as well as my “giving out”) and I rested in Him. I still do. It’s the only way to live, and it’s the only way I want to live!
We have had poignant holidays in the wake of bereavement over loss. We have had tearful Christmases when circumstances were nearly devastating due to a loved one’s rebellious decisions. Four Christmases ago Joe and I were a wall apart in hospital beds, beginning the arduous recovery from major surgeries both occurring in a space of a few hours a couple of days before Christmas.
But it was still, and always will be, Christmas. The Grinch can’t steal it and neither can illness, family sorrows, death, economic circumstances, or any of the world’s weighty problems. Christmas! If a metaphorical Grinch were to come on Christmas Eve and confiscate our trees and our lights and our presents, it would still be Christmas and we would still be giving—because in all of our giving we are giving ourselves, and giving to our Lord the thanksgiving and glory which He deserves. If we have nothing to give, we will still give somehow in some way.
Christmas is stress-free and joyous—a time to celebrate the loving and giving that we treasure around the year. We love because He first loved us. And we give, because He has given us THE GREATEST GIFT. It would be unthinkable to do anything else but give when we have received so much! Merry Christmas!
Margaret Been, December 23rd, 2014
Note: On the bottom left side of the above photo, you will see a charming manger scene created out of popsicle sticks, bits of cloth, and miscellaneous odds and ends. This was custom-made for Joe and me a few years ago by four great-grandchildren under the supervision of their Mom—our granddaughter, Alicia.
If you look closely on the bottom left, you will see little bits of white and purple under or beside the people: Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus in His manger bed, and a shepherd. The little bits are sheep, fashioned from pipe cleaners and dabs of white material, by Alicia’s youngest child—less than two years old at the time if I recall correctly. Now that is a gift to treasure forever!