I’m still searching for the perfect gift for my wife, Rosslyn. That’s not strictly true. I’m not searching. I’m waiting; waiting for inspiration. It’s a high risk strategy. But what can I say; I like to live dangerously!
I’ve learnt how to buy presents for her the hard way. It’s fair to say that there have been one or two presents down the years where I didn’t get it quite right; the blender and the bedside light come to mind. But it’s good to confess. It’s cathartic. In an attempt to avoid painful mistakes, I’ve now devised ‘the present test’. If something passes the present test then it’s a possible gift. It has three aspects to it.
1. A great present needs to be useful
It fulfils a need. It needs to have some really useful purpose. It has to do something. I’m not massively keen on ornamental presents that, as far as I can see, don’t really do anything. But I suppose even they fulfil an aesthetic need. But I want to find a present that makes the recipient say ‘that’s just what I need’.
But functionality isn’t enough in a present, is it? To pass the present test any gift has to do more than merely fulfil a need.
2. A great present needs to be personal
It’s tailored to the individual. I have three children; Rufus who’s eight, Flora who’s six and Digby who’s four. Although they’re all mine, they are very different children. They’re individuals. They have different passions and priorities. And so I can’t give the same present to each of them. If I want to get each of my kids a great present I need to recognise that they’re different and make it personal. A great present has to take account of who we’re giving it to and what they’re like.
But not even functionality combined with individuality is enough, is it? We need something else.
3. A great present needs to be valuable
It comes at a great price. There has to be some cost involved, usually financial. Giving the present involves some sacrifice. And the reason for that is that we show someone that we love them by what we’re prepared to give up for them. If I buy Rosslyn’s present from the 99p store she’s likely to reach one conclusion. But if I pay a visit to Aspreys, she might just reach another. In my choice of gift I can choose to express how much she means to me but how much I’m willing to give up for her.
But you won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t want to think only about the presents we give to one another. I want to think about another gift. I want to think about God’s gift to us of His Son. And I want to ask ‘does that pass the present test?’
In Luke 2:12 we’re told that when God sent His Son into the world, He sent him wrapped up in swaddling clothes; like a present. I want to argue that God’s gift to us of His Son is the single most perfect present that we could wish for because it perfectly fulfils the present test.
God’s gift to us of His Son is supremely useful. Jesus Christ fulfils a very great need. Every single one of us has pushed God out to the circumference of our lives when He ought to be in the centre. That makes Him angry; justly so. We’d respond the same way if anyone treated us like that. Why should God be any different? We are sinners in need of a saviour. And Jesus is the saviour. What could be more useful?
God’s gift to us of His Son is supremely personal. God has taken account of who we are and what we’re like. He knows everything about us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And He’s given us something particular. He’s given us Himself. What could be more personal?
God’s gift to us of His Son is supremely valuable. The gift of Jesus Christ expresses God’s love for us. If we’re unclear about what God feels about the human race we need only look at what He gave up when He sent us His Son. But we need to shift our attention from the cradle to the cross; from Christmas to Easter. God sent His Son into the world so that He would die upon the cross. He lost His Son when He gave Him up to death. What could be more valuable?
But of course it won’t matter on Christmas day whether any of presents pass the present test, if it remains unopened. Let’s not do that with God’s gift. Let’s not leave Jesus in the wrapping paper. An unopened present makes no sense. Presents are meant to be opened. Presents need to be opened.
You may have the heard the story of Thelma Howard. Thelma was an American housekeeper. Every year at Christmas her employer gave her an envelope with a piece of paper in it. Thelma didn’t know what they were. And so she simply put them in a pile under the bed. She died in 1994 just days before her 80th birthday. Her relatives discovered the pile of documents. Her employer was Walt Disney. Every year He’d give her shares in the Disney Corporation. His present to her was worth 30 million dollars. She was unaware of the value of the present that her employer had given her. You can imagine how significantly that would have changed her life. What a tragedy to be given that much wealth and yet not have a clue.
Let’s not make the mistake of leaving God’s present metaphorically ‘underneath the bed’ because we never bothered to find out how useful, how personal and how valuable it is. It would be an unparalleled tragedy to be offered the single most perfect present in the whole wide world and yet not have a clue.