The Great Gift Exchange
We have celebrated the season of exchanging gifts. The New Year of 2020 has arrived. We have entered a new decade. At Christmas we give and receive gifts because God has held nothing back. He has given us the greatest gift in his Son Jesus. The wise men, who were among the most learned scholars of their day, brought gifts to Jesus, because they wanted to thank God for sending the mysterious King into the world. They gave rare and precious gifts to Jesus, the King of kings, not as vassals who pay tribute to a Lord who has conquered them, but out of gratitude to God who has given his very own self in his Son Jesus.
Our practice of exchanging gifts at Christmas mirrors something profound that is expressed in the story of the Magi bearing gifts to the child Jesus. We wrap our gifts so that what is given cannot be seen until it is opened. This adds an element of mystery characteristic also of the gift of the Son of God. The incomparable mystery of God and his salvation is concealed in the tiny child Jesus, born in a stable and placed to rest in a feeding trough for household animals. On the surface there is nothing there. But if you look beneath the surface, you will find the unparalleled gift of God himself. The wondrous gift is hidden, wrapped in human form. You must look beneath the surface to discover its glory.
The wrapping and opening of gifts at Christmas also mirrors the truth that in life, what matters most is rarely seen on the surface. Is anything more valuable to us than the relationships we have with others? Our relationships with friends and family members are among the greatest treasures of life. Each person is a mysterious gift. But of course, the gift we find in one another, in friends and families, is sometimes hidden under the disguise of rambunctious, self-willed children, difficult, quirky personalities, aging bodies and various kinds of conditions of the human spirit such as depression, anxiety and boredom. These precious, mysterious relationships are lived out in the most humdrum of circumstances – getting up each day, fixing meals, cleaning dishes, going to work and returning home at night tired so that it is hard to give our undivided attention to others. Yet the great gift is there, waiting to be opened.
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of the Son of God who came into the world when the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary in such a way that Christ was born through her. Christmas anticipates another great festival of the Church when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. We call this festival Pentecost. At Pentecost we celebrate the birth of the Church which occurred after Jesus ascended to heaven.
In the letter to the Ephesians we read “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (Ephesians 4:7-8, NIV)
In giving gifts to his people after ascending to heaven, Jesus intended for us to share those gifts. What are the gifts that he gave us to share? Paul lists some of the gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. Yet our understanding is that that EACH ONE OF US has been given some gift.
The Christian congregation is a family of families. The church, the body of Christ is a kind of family that surpasses all other families and wraps them into itself in the most amazing ways. It includes an immeasurable wealth of gifts. When we think about the gifts of the Holy Spirit that God has given to his people and the fact that he has given us gifts so that we could share them, we can also think about the church as a “Great Gift Exchange.”
The family is not considered a gift of the Holy Spirit in and of itself, but when believers live in families, they bring some gift of the Holy Spirit to their families and together with their families, they also have a gift to share with others. The letter to the Hebrews says “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV)
Here is a way your family can share the gifts God has given to you and spur others on to love and good works. If you know a missionary, invite him or her to stay at your home. Invite some of your friends to come over for dessert to meet your missionary friend and let your missionary friend tell stories about what God is doing in the place where he or she is working.
Back in 1989 when I was a young pastor in Pennsylvania, I received a letter from a seminary classmate of mine. He was a pastor and an evangelist from India. He wrote to me that he would soon be travelling from India to enroll in a course of study in California, and was hoping to visit some churches in the USA before starting. I did not know him very well, but I invited him to stay with our family and visit the church where I was pastor. Soon after that we decided to move to Virginia to a new church. After moving I received another letter from the Indian evangelist telling me when he would be arriving to visit us. In those days we had no smart phones, no email and no texting. So I quickly wrote him a response and mailed it to him in India. I informed my friend that I had moved to a new city and had recently taken a part time position at a new church, but I hardly knew anyone in the church yet. I told him he was welcome to visit, but I could not guarantee that I could arrange for him to speak at the church.
When he arrived to stay at our home a few weeks later, I invited some people I had met at the church to come to our home to meet him. We sat in our living room for an hour or so as my friend from India told stories about the ministry he and his wife were involved in. At the end of the evening he left some printed information about his ministry with us. One of the men who attended that night took the information to the church mission committee and recommended that the church begin to support this evangelist in India. They agreed to do so.
Thirty years have gone by and the church has continued to support the work of my evangelist friend in India. Many of the projects he spoke about on his original visit, including the building of a hospital, have been completed. Members of our church have made visits to India to be with him and see the work with their own eyes. Our friend from India has returned to visit people in our church many times, but instead of staying with me, he stays with the family of one of the men who came to our home the first time he visited. He visits with his wife, who cooks a delicious Indian meal, and a group of friends gather at the home where they are staying to hear about God’s work in India. Everyone who is a part of these gatherings is encouraged.
All this is part of what I like to think of as The Great Gift Exchange. When families open their homes to God’s servants, inviting others to come meet them, everyone who comes is spurred on to love and good works and is encouraged by the sharing of t
he gifts. You also in your family can do this. Your children can be a part of it. You will be encouraged and others will be encouraged too. It all part of God’s wonderful gift exchange.
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