Put the Gift ahead of the gifts - Word&Way

Put the Gift ahead of the gifts

Perhaps humankind in general is more enamored by the gifts in the biblical account of the Messiah's birth than the Gift.

Bill Webb

Go into any retail store this time of year and what you will find are dazzling displays with pricey items that we might more closely associate with the gold, frankincense and myrrh given by the wise men than what is represented by the little Christ child in a makeshift crib.

Much of the complaining that the season of commemorating the birth of the long-awaited Messiah has been hijacked by secular commercialists (or is that commercial secularists) is disingenuous. Christians are very well represented among the avid holiday purchasers of goods useful and extravagant, pricey and cheap.

Sometimes, to our dismay, Christmas gets away from us.

In the original Christmas story, it is somewhat amazing that some time after Jesus' birth these three Easterners showed up at the home of the carpenter Joseph and his wife Mary bringing what might have been considered practical gifts fit for a king. Even today, incense is still a welcome gift to some people. Gifts of precious metals or cash are universally welcomed.

What about the fragrant oils presented to the infant Jesus? Did the holy family use them as Jesus was growing up? Did they use them in worship or at his death? Scripture doesn't give us the answer. Nor does it tell us what happened to the gold.

Charles Sheldon wrote a book back in 1896 that continues to be updated and reprinted: What Would Jesus Do? The concept has been adopted and converted into a contemporary acronym, WWJD, complete with various commercial products to help young people and adults try to better model Jesus' actions.

At Christmas, we might rephrase the question to ask, "Where would Jesus be?" If the Messiah were to physically visit your community during the Christmas season today, where might you find him?

Jesus might be in church. That's how he was raised as a boy. As an adult, he continued temple worship and participated in Scripture-reading and study in the synagogues for as long as he was allowed.

Today, he would engage in God-focused worship, observe the fervor and sincerity of the gathered people and watch to see if they left the service committed to better represent Christ in their homes, workplaces and other activities of life.

No doubt invited to be a guest Bible study teacher, he would decline and, instead, gravitate to where the youngsters and teens were. He would observe and listen. As he did in his ministry, Jesus would make time for the children.

Jesus might frequent homeless shelters, food pantries and other human needs ministries. Jesus could relate to those without a place to lay their heads at night, to hungry families and to children who feel neglected during a season of gift giving.

Jesus might slip on an apron and dish up steaming soup and hot bread, perhaps even fry up some fish, one of his specialties. He would be in his element in the midst of his kind of people. His compassion would be unmistakable.

Jesus might make the rounds of hospitals and nursing homes. No doubt he would create quite a stir at every stop. A gentle word or touch would heal hearts, minds and bodies. He would be the perfect antidote to loneliness.

Jesus might visit jail cells and jailers. He would call all to new lives of confession, freedom, optimism, joy and responsibility as followers of Christ. He would demonstrate that these are people not to be neglected by his followers.

He might even be in crowded malls and shopping centers. We might rather see Jesus boycotting these bastions of greed, money-changing, commercialism and secularism, especially at Christmas. But he would be drawn to the crowds. Jesus would be the one without credit card or cash in hand. He would not be looking anxiously for items long sold out.

These are places where we often place thoughts of the Savior on hold. We're trying to park the car, marking through items on long gift lists, trying to avoid careening shopping carts or injury inflicted in other ways. Frantically shopping under deadline leaves us exhausted and unfulfilled.

Perhaps you can imagine this heavenly department-store chaplain restoring peace in the midst of self-imposed stress, tension and peer pressure. He would find us Christ-followers there with everyone else, all of us in need of his understanding and soothing presence.

If you lose sight of the Savior at Christmas, please forego grousing about the anti-Christmas-ness of secular courts, government and lobbyists. Don't blame the influence of atheists or advocates of political correctness. Look into a mirror.

Refocus and, if you need to, repent. Place Christ at the forefront of Christmas for you and your family, perhaps using Advent materials. Anticipate the celebration of Christ's coming to keep the season and its reason in proper perspective.

Of course, God is in church, in human needs ministries, in hospitals, in nursing homes, in jails and prisons and even in harried shopping venues. He's everywhere, always available. Sometimes even the faithful don't pause to acknowledge it.

Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.