The Traditions of Presents
Read Luke 2
“Behold I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people”
Growing up on the farm, birthdays were lost in the daily activities of life. There would usually be a cake and a few presents, but birthdays usually passed without much fanfare. Since my birthday was in July, it was often celebrated with a cake being brought to the fields as we would be usually working to put the hay in the barn. But Christmas was a different story. By the time Christmas arrived, the presents would be cascading from underneath the Christmas tree and slowly creeping across the floor, threatening to devour the while livingroom.
The tradition of giving gifts in celebration of Christmas has a long history in the Christian calendar. In 336 A.D. the date of December 25 was established as the day of Jesus’s birth. Because of the story of the Magi giving gifts to baby Jesus, the practice of giving gifts quickly became a custom. Many historians attribute the popularity of giving gifts to Nikolaos of Myra, a 4th-century saint who frequently gave gifts to people. After he was elevated to the position of sainthood by the Catholic church, he became known as Saint Nicholas. By the time of the Reformation, the practice of gift-giving to children was widely embraced. But it was not until the turn of the 20 century that retailers began to aggressively market the season in order to increase retail sales. This year, it is estimated that the sales from Christmas will be 755.3 billion dollars, with each person spending around $1000 on gifts, holiday items, and other expenses related to Christmas.
But for all the presents that I received during Christmas over the years, there is one year that always stands out. It was the year that I thought I got slighted. As we were opening the presents that year, it soon became apparent that I was not getting as much as the rest of the family. The main gift I got was a mini-Luge snow sled. But my feeling of being slighted that year turned to guilt when I saw the price tag on the box (my mom was notoriously famous for forgetting to remove the price tags). I remember feeling guilty that I had felt disappointed over my presents when I realized how much my parents had spent on me. (It was not until years later that my mother confessed that in wrapping the presents on Christmas eve, she realized that she indeed not purchased as many gifts for me and so to make it look better, she switched the price tags to may my presents appear more expensive.) But of all the gifts I received, I most fondly remember the hours of enjoyment we had with the Luge Snow sled. The gift that seemed the most insignificant became the most memorable and enjoyable.
But this story brings us to the heart of Christmas. The one gift that became the basis for Christmas is regarded by many to be the most inconsequential; the gift of the baby in a manger. Today, in our celebration of Christmas, this gift is forgotten. Of all the Christmas movies shown this holiday season, very few even make mention of this gift. For many, the story of Jesus is forgotten. But what we deem to be unimportant and of little value, is the most valuable gift of all, for in the gift of the Baby Jesus we find the hope of all humanity. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). While the gifts we receive at Christmas are soon forgotten and destined to the junk heap, the gift OF Christmas is eternal and brings everlasting life, for it is the gift of Christ coming to die for our sin that we might have eternal life. If Christmas this year seems to be tarnished by the effects of Covid-19, remember we are celebrating the very hope of eternal life. For that reason alone, we have reason to rejoice with great joy.