Every day the gifts come. They are all so perfectly suited, so delightful, so helpful and functional. They cheer me, comfort me, and provoke me to thought and sometimes to action.
The avalanche of gifts makes it seem like Christmas every day. In fact, it would be totally appropriate for me to start singing right now, “In the sixth month of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . . “ I mean, really, are we going to let a little thing like a calendar stand in the way of having gifts upon gifts heaped upon us every day? What’s the big deal? What really is the difference between July and December when it comes to gifts of an eternal and spiritual nature?
You see, every day, I receive love, gentleness, kindness. Friends demonstrate self-control and patience in the face of my not-so-gentle or kind attitudes and despite my weaknesses and failures. I am shown hospitality and mercy. I am enriched with teaching and preaching and exhortation. I am prayed over. I am helped. I experience peace that passes all understanding and peace among the brethren. What joys have buoyed me – fellowships shared and prayers answered and worship in groups large and small! What faith assails me when I am encouraged on to greater faith by the dependence on Christ that I see from those around me!
I wrote 25 blog posts about Christmas last December, daily cataloging my thoughts through the season on a temporary bloglet space called From Thanks 2 Giving. I mused on and mulled over carols and concerts, stories and traditions, ornaments and lights and décor. For believers in Jesus the Messiah, these all point us to the transcendent, magnificent, singular and majestic central figure of Christmas: the Incarnate Son of God. Satan and the powers of darkness trembled and plotted but were unsuccessful at thwarting His coming. Wise men and shepherds rerouted their travels to see Him. Testimonials that proclaimed the Babe as the King were heard in the fields and the temple and from the highest heavens. All the world will come to know and bow the knee to “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, . . . the Christ.” (Acts 17:3 ESV)
One of those posts has stuck with me, and I guess that’s good because its purpose was to exhort me (and readers) to think of gifts and gift-giving differently, beyond the boundaries of the Christmas tradition. I’m writing about it again, now, here in July, pulling quite a bit from that post of December 25, 2015, and contemplating the past six months and the dynamic of gifts and service to one another. Whether or not you accepted the challenge I issued at the end of that post, would you join me now in looking into how the Lord nurtures and strengthens the Christian community through Spirit-gifts ? I know, for my part, that a posture of giving still needs work, to be cultivated and refined, so that, by God’s grace, I can do better these next six months.
Let’s think a minute about leftover Christmas gifts.
As the white-hot excitement of the day begins to recede into a warm glow of contentment and satisfaction, there is usually a gift that has gone un-given. It’s still under the tree, or tucked in a spot to be remembered the next time I go out. Delivering gifts on the day after Christmas always makes me feel like I'm violating some social code, "playing Christmas" after Christmas. All the gift exchanges are supposed to be completed by midnight according to a modern, American-centric calendar. Doing so after Christmas tinkers with Earth’s equilibrium.
After Christmas last year, however, I contemplated advocating for the continuation of gift exchanges within the body of Christ beyond Christmas Day. Not fitbits, comfy throws or framed photos, but gifts like wisdom, service, hospitality, exhortation and mercy (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12). I would love to see the members of my spiritual family exchanging kindness, joy, love, peace, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5), and it would bring me great joy to see it happen all year long.
I confess I haven't properly viewed the gifts as actual behavior. As the body of Christ, we all contribute to and participate in the godly purpose of the church. We are made able by spiritual muscle – Holy Spirit muscle, that is. The Holy Spirit is like a bodybuilder who seeks to build up the body of Christ. He does this by empowering members with spiritual gifts. The gifts are the means the Lord uses to make His church stronger, healthier, happier, more obedient, more productive, and more like Him – and in all these improvements, more glory goes to the Head, to Jesus Himself.
Ladies, what happens when the sultry weather outside starts to transition into cooler days, chillier nights? What do you start thinking about when the days turn blustery and leaves tumble all over the sidewalks and streets, and you can retrieve your favorite boots and sweaters and scarves from storage? You begin preparing for Christmas giving and feasting and celebrating as early as September and October -- because it's that important to you that it be just right.
If the exchange of material gifts and crafting a physical atmosphere of joy and warmth and excitement demand so much forethought, why wouldn't there be the same thoughtful consideration in sharing our spiritual gifts, whether those distributed individually ("to one, to another . . . " 1 Corinthians 12) or to all by one gift (Galatians 5)? For the countless reasons we give presents to others – to demonstrate our love, to ease burdens, to delight or comfort, or even to be dutiful -- we are also compelled to give of our spiritual abundance: We love the brethren. We see needs that call for attention and care. We rejoice with some and mourn with others. In obedience we put on the characteristics of Christ even when we don't feel like it because it honors Him.
Who says that just because the boxes and bags get broken down and packed away that we can't intentionally and carefully prepare beautiful presents and packages of love and ministry for others? Nothing is more sorrowful than to watch holiday crowds get swept up in the emotion of seasonal worship of the babe in the manger, and yet later disinterestedly dismiss the King of all eternity. The things that we insist are true about a Christ-centered Christmas must also be true about a Christ-centered everyday life. This includes the gifts that come forth from The Gift.
Near the end of Paul's letter to the Romans are exhortations to a community of believers about how to live as those who have been transformed by Christ:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
Take a minute and think about the people who were on your gift list this past year. How would you bless them using spiritual gifts? Can you gently wrap up words of Scripture to encourage or edify them? Do you have skills of hospitality or service that you could share with them? Does the church have a need for your gift of teaching or leadership?
And as for the Galatians list of gifts, who wouldn't delight in being the benefactor of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness or self-control? For me, there are certainly a few on that list that require some preparation on my knees so that I can give them with a heart that reflects Christ. Isn't giving with a heart that is mindful of Jesus what Christmas is all about? The church exists to declare the glory of Christ -- his person, his mission, his reign. If we stop celebrating on December 26, or January 6, or whenever the calendar says we have to, what does that say about how we view His person, His mission, and His reign year-round?
Our gift exchanges of service and grace and blessings can be the declaration of God's transforming power, furthering the gospel, sharing the love of Jesus, outdoing one another in showing honor, blessing those who curse us, living peaceably with all, overcoming evil with good, and proclaiming Christ to a lost world. I don't see how we can not go on with the festivities of Christmas. So, henceforth, let the celebrations continue indefinitely! May the gift exchange be neverending!
Merry Christmas! Merry Life!
This post first appeared under the title, The Neverending Gift Exchange, on December 25, 2015. It has been refreshed and reposted for broader interest.
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
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