At our recent Bedford Carols Mash Up I mentioned the phenomenon of the Four Gift Rule. I didn’t make it up. It’s a thing apparently. I got it from the BBC website here.
Here it is in outline: want, need, wear, read. It’s essentially parenting by numbers. And honestly, sometimes in parenting, numbers is just what you need. The gist of the article is that it’s possible to establish a watertight contractual arrangement between parent and offspring whereby they accept that they only receive four gifts at Christmas as long as each of the four presents fulfils one of the following criteria.
1. One must be something that they want.
2. One must be something that they need.
3. One must be something to wear.
4. And one must be something to read.
Three of those are dead easy. Number two son is getting a set of Simon Mayo’s ‘Itch’ books. Mrs P needs a new iron. Don’t worry. It’s not the only thing she’s getting. I’ve bought her socks as well. Favourite daughter will happily wear a new cycling top. But what they want, that’s a shocker. Number one son wants a new hockey stick. The top of the range option is £270. For a hockey stick! That’s not happening.
But what do they want? I could ask them. But that’s risky. I don’t want them to think that my enquiry signals some sort of implicit commitment to fulfilling their desires. But what do they want? And, more importantly, why do they want the things that they want? That’s got to be worth asking, hasn’t it? After all why do any of us want the things that we want? Surely we want what we want because of what we believe it will offer us. Deep down, what we want reveals what we really want. And that’s worth knowing.
I wonder whether what we want boils down to one of three essential things. We want security, significance or satisfaction. In other words we want to feel that it’s all going to be OK and that we’ll be safe. That’s security. We want to feel that we mean something and that we really do matter. That’s significance. And we want to feel that we’re fulfilled. That’s satisfaction.
We may well get presents this Christmas that offer us one or more of those things. I’m hoping for a week long cycling trip to Tenerife. And that’s all to do with satisfaction. A little to do with significance. I’m getting older. My powers (though not inconsiderable) are on the wane! I feel like I have a little bit less to offer as I get older. That makes me feel a little less significant. But cycling long distances with a group of others who are similarly minded gives me an identity. And that matters to me. Probably more than it should given that who I am needs to be rooted in Christ and the gospel. But I’m simply revealing why I want the things that I want.
We may give and receive ideal Christmas presents this year. They may be what the recipients or we want. But all our brilliantly chosen Christmas gifts will wear out or their effect will wear off. No created thing can offer us ultimate security and guarantee that everything will be alright in the end. No created thing can offer us ultimate significance and guarantee that we matter. And no created thing can offer us ultimate satisfaction and guarantee unending pleasure. But God has given us a Christmas gift that will. This gift will fulfil every aspect of our deepest desires. The gift of Jesus will one day provide us with unmatched security as we rest at peace forever in his glorious New Creation. He will provide us with eternal significance because we’ll belong to his people as his treasured possession forever. And he will provide us with unstoppable joy as we take pleasure in who he is and what he’s given us. That’s some present, isn’t it? It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Each present we give or receive will at best provide us with only a temporary glimpse of the greatest present of all. So let’s make sure that in the midst of all our present opening we don’t neglect the greatest gift of all. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ John 3:16.