What should we do when we are offended by the gift and we know that there are strings attached?
Some would say that the perfect gift is one given generously, where the recipient feels no pressure to return the favour and has done nothing to merit their receipt of it. It comes at just the right time and is exactly what is needed. And most of us might agree that this sounds like a wonderful ideal.
The organised and planned among you will already have the gifts you are giving this Christmas, bought and wrapped, stashed away ready to be posted or given. The job done, the worry of “will I be ready in time?” resolved, and yet there remain the nagging thoughts; “will they be right?”, “will they like them?” and, “will they be enough?”. Now, if that’s not you, and you enjoy shopping nearer the date, the concerns remain the same, mixed in with the apprehension of what to buy, will it be available, and can the budget stretch this year? However organised we are, the ideals of giving and the reality we live in do not sit well together. The dream of giving or receiving a ‘perfect’ gift seems to remain just out of reach.
It is always inspiring to see how much, many give of their time, and money to good causes. Our charities work endlessly to meet needs and alleviate the suffering of the sick, the poor, the homeless, the hurting, and the refugee. Our gifts to them are foundational to the good they do. We make our donations of cash or tins of food into the foodbank basket and we feel better for having done something, for doing our bit, and yet we know there are people in our own towns and villages, even in our own streets, who have less, or not enough for their own needs, and are maybe cold, hungry and hurting too.
I met many in my own town and right across the North Yorkshire Dales when I worked as a debt adviser. We gave free, impartial help to ordinary people who found they could not pay their bills. Our service was supported by the generous gifts of their friends and neighbours, and so we had limited resources and had to decide who could receive our help, who was ‘most deserving’.
Many needed help. A few through situations beyond their control, most because of a combination of circumstances both foreseeable and unforeseen, and the consequences of choices they had made. I gave up trying to define what ‘deserving’ meant, and we simply tried to help those we could, and those who were willing to try their best to improve their own affairs. Most would have been offended if we had tried to give them something they did not need, though many accepted a bag of groceries with a warm smile.
I came to realise that we give and receive through relationship. Relationship always has to come first as it forms the channel through which the gifts must pass. I concluded too that the acts of both giving and receiving, alter this relationship as it is built and strengthened when both are done well. I needed to receive well, my clients’ hospitality, and the endless cups of strong Yorkshire tea, just as they needed to receive the advice and help we gave them.
Some did not want our help. Some wanted something from us but did not want to do anything we suggested to improve their own situation. Some were unable to be helped because of other factors in their lives. As difficult as it was, we knew that in all these situations we had to walk away, and take our ‘gift’ back, graciously and with no ill feeling.
Some say that we give gifts at Christmas because God gave us the perfect gift of a child named Jesus. But, in the ancient world, however, people knew that gifts were never given with ‘no strings attached’! Gifts were always intertwined in the reciprocity of relationships. Gifts were given to strengthen relations, to encourage others to respond positively towards the giver so that there might be some mutual benefit.
I would suggest, therefore, that what God gave at Christmas, was the opportunity for us to have a relationship with him. He became human, in Jesus, because humans have the deepest and most meaningful relationships with other humans. He became one of us, so that we could live in relationship with him. It is this relationship that is his gift.
Some will not want to live in relationship with him, others will be offended that he asked, and some will not want to pay the cost that such a relationship brings. But many have discovered that when you are in a relationship with the one who created the universe and who gives life to all who live, then the gifts that he gives to those who are in relationship with him, are far greater and better than anything we might desire to give back to him in return.
Perhaps, as Christmas approaches once again, this year will be the one when you receive that perfect gift.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”John 3:16-17
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