Rarely when we shop for the perfect Christmas gift are we thinking about the best gift of all – encouragement.
We generally purchase gifts based on what we think will make someone “happy” by meeting a material desire or temporary comfort. Instead of building people up by providing the stuff of encouragement – peace, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope – we shop for the stuff of this world and then beat down doors at midnight to get it cheap.
Anybody see any Bible parallels or problems there?
The gift of encouragement is a much tougher “find.” Few people put “encouragement” on their Christmas wish list. I didn’t see a single Black Friday sale featuring a discount on or special shopping hours for “encouragement.”
Christmas gift-giving winds up being about expressing our love – a good thing – by making other people happy, preferably at a righteous discount. But holiday gift exchanges are mostly semi-redundant expressions of our affection. We present gifts to, and receive them from, people who already know we care. I mean, it’s creepy to get a Christmas gift from someone we don’t like, isn’t it? And who shops for their enemies?
This is all to say that Christmas gift-giving is geared not so much toward mimicking God’s universal encouragement of mankind but toward simple and transitory, worldly expressions of “I didn’t forget you” or “I want you to be happy.”
That’s all fine, but … the entire dynamic is out of sync with the actual story of Christmas and the glorious incarnation of God on earth. Jesus was God’s ultimate gift of gracious, eternal encouragement to a world that didn’t know Him, would largely ignore Him, would treat Him as an enemy, mock Him, and kill Him. Mankind never even asked for the gift God so spectacularly provided (John 1:1-14).
This was the gift of all gifts: God’s encouragement in the form of man’s eternal salvation through the humble human life and sin-cleansing death of his Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. The entire Old Testament points to this coming gift, but people interpreted scripture and prophecy to mean that God would give them happiness and comfort in exchange for their obedience.
People expected a trade, a transaction, a quid pro quo. Almost everyone missed the cosmic, life-altering importance of divine encouragement – the love, freedom, grace, and life – God sent in His gift of Jesus.
Be encouraged and think about that while you’re out shopping.
Speaking of Christmas shopping, Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) published Common Christianity / Uncommon Commentary, a book of his first 260 Current columns, available at Amazon.com, Lulu.com, and BarnesandNoble.com. He’d be encouraged if you gave somebody one as a gift. Also see his more-recent column archive site, www.commonchristianity.blogspot.com.