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What's with a Gift?


The big push is over. All that thinking about gifts to give. Purchasing or ordering them. Wrapping and shipping or delivering them. Getting a report as to how they were received. Then starting to think all over again because Christmas is just months away. And eyeballing the bank and credit card statements for the hard truth of what it all cost. And perhaps wondering at some point in the midst of it all, what's with a gift anyway?

We give out of custom, believing there's some expectation we have to fulfill. We give out of habit because we've done it for so long. We give to be liked. We give to express affection. We give to be noticed. And maybe we give for the sheer pleasure of giving.

Giving has been an interesting development this week as a response to the unnerving experience of a 24-year-old professional football player suffering cardiac arrest on the field Monday night. Buffalo's DaMar Hamlin's charity, Chasing Ms, has exploded with donations. If he hoped to catch the millions he was after in order to give gifts to economically disadvantaged children, he's succeeded. The question is, would people have given to Chasing Ms if he hadn't collapsed on the field? It's a noble cause. But were some donations made only in order to top the amount of Tom Brady's gift? What's with a gift anyway?

This week is also marked by a notable day known as Epiphany. As the story goes, "wise men" came from afar to bring gifts to the newborn "king of the Jews." Their journey was prompted by an astrological anomaly which was interpreted as a sign. According to tradition, three gifts were offered: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each had a meaning. Gold for a king. Incense for a priest. Myrrh for someone destined to die. Not your typical baby shower gifts. Yet, as Miroslav Volf has noted in a Christian Century article, the wise men "did not huddle together around a warm fire and give gifts to each other and delight in each other's generosity." They gave away their gifts to "a holy stranger" (Volf's words). Which makes us wonder all the more, what's with a gift anyway?

Volf claims that "Christmas celebration is about two kinds of gift-giving, not just one. It is about reciprocal giving in a circle of intimates, an enactment of a provisional advent of God's future world of love. It is also about unidirectional giving to those outside the circle of intimates, a small contribution to aligning the world of sin and need with God's coming world of love." That puts gift-giving in a wholly different light, doesn't it? Essentially what's with a gift is love. A comfortable love expressed and received and experienced ongoingly in a circle of family or friends. And a stretching kind of love laced with the hope that it will do something quasi-miraculous. In Volf's beautiful words, "Christmas is not the goal. Christmas is the movement toward the goal, the endeavor of God to draw all people into the world of love."

Clearly, the magi's gifts were given in recognition of the advent of God's love physically showing up in order to reign over, intercede on behalf of, and die for the likes of us. What's with that gift? Indescribable grace. So go ahead and give to a charity or give charitably. Do something to align our world of hurt with God's budding world of love. But give anonymously in the name of Love.

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