Advent 9: Good Gifts

Todays’s thought comes from James 1:17: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

For some reason this morning I started singing the old hymn, Give of Your Best to the Master.

It is the season for giving gifts.

Buying gifts when the girls were young and we were foster parents was not something I enjoyed. Do I sound like Scrooge?

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to give gifts. I just hated the way the kids counted their presents and made sure there was equity for all.

I dreaded hearing their pronouncement of: It’s not fair s/he got more than me.

Sigh. Like it was some kind of competition.

I don’t think I ever liked the gift giving part of Christmas. For so many years I was disappointed after not receiving the gifts I truly had my heart set on. I quit asking for things.

What would happen if we boycotted the whole gift giving insanity?

The best “gifts” my children ever gave me were the coupon booklets that they proudly (or forced) made in school. There were coupons for cleaning their room, or doing the dishes without being asked. They were the kinds of things that cost no money but demonstrated love and care.

They were gifts of time.

The best gifts are like that. They are gifts of time, of touch…of you.

Who could you give the gift of you to this Christmas?

You know who gave you the best gift, don’t you? He gave himself. Pretty good example to follow.

Simple Gifts

Okay. Raise your hand if you have a cell phone? Keep them up…I’m still counting.

Last week I finally went in to talk to the people at my Verizon store. I would rather visit the dentist.

There are very few, if any, workers there who know what life was like before cell phones. I feel like I’m immediately a “marked” woman: easy prey; unknowing victim; big sale! Ugh.

So I after I am accosted at the door, I am sent to the counter to talk to a young man. Very chipper and quite excited to get the geezer (not), he asks what he can do for me. I tell him, “Fix my phone.”

I go on to explain that my battery won’t hold a charge. He removes the battery and spins it on the counter. “Yep, that battery is really bad.” (Thanks captain obvious, that’s why I came in). He explains that the spinning demonstrates that the battery is warped and that’s why it’s not charging.

He proceeds to look up my account–our account, since we are bundled with younger daughter. He correctly informs me that my contract isn’t up until March. A fact that I knew and that doesn’t make me happy. I ask what I can do about this.

He walks me over to the magic wall of wonder. I guess I’m supposed to be all “Ooh” and “Ah”, but all I see are gizmos and gadgets I can’t afford and don’t need. He proceeds to explain my two options–both of which cost way too much and don’t fix my phone. No, I need a new phone. Upgrade is the solution. I leave the store with his card and my bum phone.

Later in the day I tell my husband about my adventure. He asks how much a new battery costs. I tell him that was not an option that was given to me. He sighs and gets on Ebay. He orders me an $8 battery that will be here in three days. If that works–great! If not, we’ll consider another option. A new phone is not in the picture. And I’m way okay with that.

That battery came as promised. And works wonderfully. My phone should last until my contract is up.


Now where, you ask, is the daily grace in all of that?

Replacing the battery seemed like such an obvious and logical solution. I’m certainly no techo-genius, but even I came up with that one. And the whole thing dying shortly before my contract was complete was a fact that seemed quite suspicious to me as well.

As I drove home from the store, my phone making all sorts of odd beeps and chimes as I try to charge it, a phrase ran through my mind: not as the world gives.

Here’s the context of those words: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27, NIV)

We typically hear these words at funerals. They are spoken there with intent of bringing comfort.

But all I could hear was: I do not give to you as the world gives.

The world wanted me to spend beyond my means. The world left me feeling badly about myself. The world avoided the simple solution.

Jesus does none of the above. Jesus invites me to be a wise steward. Jesus loved me so much he died for me. Through Jesus’ teachings, miracles, and example, we see over and over the value of individuals that society shunned or devalued (the ill, children, widows, women, and tax collectors). Jesus focused on the obvious, even though their eyes were blind and their ears shut to his message.

As you make your way into the minefield of holiday shopping and gift giving, I would invite you to carry this verse with you: I do not give as the world gives. The world wants you to spend. The world seeks to convince children that they don’t have enough, or good enough. Adults aren’t immune from this ploy of the deceiver either.

The message of the world is that things, more things, better things, improved things, new things will make us happy. But it’s a lie. Sorry. Here’s how I know it: this is not how God gives. Jesus neither. God gave the greatest gift in the form of a helpless baby, born in a stable or cave. There was a fanfare of sorts (cue the angelic choir), but the message was given to dirty, smelly, low-life shepherds.

NOW HEAR THIS: I’m not saying you have to change everything you do. I’m just asking you to consider…and invite God into your process. This isn’t simply an invitation to ask and apply the WWJD formula…but there is something to thinking about how Jesus would give and what he would give.

As I thought about this verse an old Quaker song came to mind:


Now those are some gifts I would like to find around my tree: freedom, the ability to bow and bend, and know I’m where I ought to be. Those are the gifts Jesus gives. I hope you find those this holiday and holy season.