Gifting “Outside the Box”

This year has been a difficult one for my family financially. With Christmas coming, there is no money for expensive (or inexpensive) gifts– barely any money for bills. We always like to say that it’s not about the gift, and that “it’s the thought that counts,” but we don’t enjoy putting those words to the test. Like it or not, we have a tendency to equate Christmas with shiny decorations and festive packages– especially for the kids and grandkids.

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Even the first Christmas featured gifts from the Wise Men of the East– Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. But what gifts did the shepherds bring? The Angel hosts? Jesus’s own parents? What they brought– love, worship, Good News of Great Joy– was priceless and just as precious as the physical gifts of the Wise Men.

This Christmas, whatever gifts you choose to give; whatever gestures or actions you perform–let them be done with joy and with a full heart. After all, the REAL gift of Christmas wasn’t wrapped in a box. It was wrapped in flesh and blood, sacrifice and suffering. “For God so Loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son…” (John 3:16)

Our gifts matter– small gifts, fancy gifts, hugs, smiles, time spent listening, words of encouragement, even just sitting in silence with someone who is in pain.

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One of the greatest gifts we can give this season and in the coming year is the gift of prayer. Try this challenge for 2020. Choose a person (not necessarily someone in your family or close circle of friends) and pray for them every day for one month–if you know them well enough, ask them for specific ways that you can pray for them. Write their name and/or their requests somewhere (a calendar or datebook, index card..) where you will see it. At the end of the month, send the person a card or note or text message, or give them a call– let them know you’ve been thinking of them every day and praying for them.

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A few warnings:

  • DO NOT use this activity as a form of intimidation, “virtue-signaling”, or with any selfish motive. Be careful not to make this about the other person’s “neediness”– their inability or unwillingness to talk to God on their own; your superior righteousness or religiosity. Pray for their health, their well-being, and any needs that THEY express. Remember, this is a gift, not an intervention. If you are not praying that way, don’t pretend you are actually giving a gift.
  • Be ready to commit. You may even want to begin with one week, instead of a month. But don’t begin until you are ready to finish well. That doesn’t mean if you miss one day you’ve failed. But it does mean that you need to have an intention and a plan.
  • Follow through! It’s one kind of gift to offer to pray– but it’s kind of like giving a child a gift that requires batteries, and not providing the batteries…
  • Beware–gifts like this tend to come with surprises and unexpected obstacles:
    • Your offer of a gift will not always be accepted. Even if it is offered in the best of spirits, some people will find it offensive. You can still pray for them, but don’t expect gratitude or cooperation.
    • Your commitment will be tested– you may find yourself “extra” busy, or suddenly find it difficult to focus and remember your commitment; you may even find yourself tempted to give up for no reason or you may question the value of your gift.
    • Your prayer life may get challenged in unexpected ways– as you pray for someone new, you may be convicted of your own needs, your own unworthiness, your own lack…
    • You may be surprised by the realization that in giving, you also receive. As you pray for someone you don’t know well, you will find yourself developing a heart for them and wanting to know them better. You may find yourself blessed with a new and growing friendship, or a better understanding of needs and experiences you never knew before.
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What Can I Give Him?

In the Bleak Midwinter

words by Christina Rossetti


1 In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

2 Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

3 Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
worshiped the beloved with a kiss. 

4 What can I give him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
yet what I can I give him: give my heart.



United Methodist Hymnal, 1989
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I love this Christmas Hymn, though it creates a picture that is likely very false.  Historically, we have no reason to believe that Jesus’ birth occurred on the 25th of December, or even in the winter at all.  And even if it was December, it is very unlikely that the Middle-Eastern countryside was experiencing frosty moaning winds or icy waters on the night of Christ’s birth.
In addition to Mary, the Bible tells us of others who came to worship that night– the shepherds in the nearby hills.  The wise men likely came days, weeks, or even months later to bring their gifts.  And Joseph would certainly have been there, as well.

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The song is still lovely, and the last verse is the key.  Christ poured out all that He was; taking on the form of a helpless baby, He lived among those who rejected and mocked Him.  He served those whom He had created, healing their wounds, forgiving their sins, providing for their eternal redemption.  He died, betrayed and despised by His own chosen people, and dismissed by the rulers and authorities of the day.  He never owned a home, built monuments, carved his name in stone, or wrote books to preserve his legacy.  He had no dynasty or even children to carry on his name; at the time of his death, all his friends and followers had abandoned him– all but one disciple and his mother.  Yet his birth (the actual date of which has been obscured by history) is synonymous with generous gifting, rejoicing, singing, worship, and renewed hope.  So what could any of us possibly give that could even begin to match what His life, death, and resurrection gave us?

He asks for only one thing– everything we have: all the failures, mistakes, good intentions, bad choices, selfish desires, and hurts of the past–and in return, He gives us everything beyond our wildest imaginations: eternity with Him; all the riches of His Glory; all His holiness and majesty imputed to us; peace with Him; rest and restoration in Him; and His Spirit to guide and sustain us!

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The bleakness of midwinter may not have been the physical setting of Christ’s birth, but it represents the spiritual setting of our lives without Him.  In that sense, Christ comes in the bleak midwinter of our rebellion, our despair, and our isolation, and offers to give us everlasting light, hope, peace, and joy!

That’s worth celebrating every day throughout eternity!

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