One of the most exciting parts of Christmas, especially for children is giving and receiving gifts.... OK, maybe it's just receiving gifts. But you have to admit, in a world filled with so much trouble, heartache, and the struggle of daily life, the mystery of receiving a gift from someone who loves you is something very cool to look forward to.
Sure, there has been the odd bad, strange, unwanted or even embarrassing gift that some of us seem to have been landed with at least once, but most of the time, it's a good experience receiving and it can be a lot of fun planning the giving too.
This page is an invitation to ponder where the whole idea of giving gifts came from and how this relates to the story of the birth of Jesus, The Nativity Story - the ultimate gift.
Gift giving at the time of a birth was a practice long before the Roman Empire existed. However, many only trace gift giving at Christmas back to pagan Roman tradition of giving gifts to celebrate the birth of the sun god on December 25. Some believe therefore that giving gifts to others at Christmas is an act of pagan worship. But consider this…
Because someone with a different belief than you has a nice idea, and maybe even thought of it before you, does that mean you can’t engage in and enjoy it too? Because some gave gifts (and still do) on December 25 to honour what the Bible declares to be a false god (the celestial sphere which our earth revolves around – ie. the sun) does that mean that Christians or others cannot a gift to someone for a completely different reason.
Surely when a gift is given, what is most important is not the reason why a pagan worshipper gave their gift 2000 years ago but why you are giving the gift today.
People who are not Christian will give gifts at Christmas. Each will give for their own reasons. We want to invite you to consider why, if at all, Christians should give gifts at Christmas.
There was a specific reason for the magi’s gifts. That reason was primarily worship. Flowing out of that worship, the gifts they gave were specifically related to who Jesus was (and is) and the whole purpose for which Jesus came: to die for sinners. They were also gifts that would have provided for a poor family. On reflection, it could be challenging to explain how giving each other gifts of chocolates, a pair of socks or a plasma TV is following this example.
Saying that we as Christians give Christmas presents because we’re following the example of the magi, too easily overlooks the purpose and significance of the magi’s gifts. Choosing to give gifts at Christmas is one thing. Saying that we are doing it because we are following the example of the magi is another. If we want to say that we are giving because we are following their example, then we really would actually need to do that: to follow their example!
Does this mean that you need to stay away from the shops at Christmas? And not buy any presents? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that for many of us who celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas, and who say we give because we are following the example of the magi, that we may well need to change our priorities so that we actually ARE following the example of the magi.
If we are to follow their lead, we will focus on and budget for giving in the following two ways.
1. Sending the Gospel Message in some form. The Good News is a message. This message declares Jesus as: God (as with the gift of gold); that he is the intercessor/mediator between God and man (frankincense); and that he died for sinners (myrrh). In other words, share with others who Jesus is and why he came so they have the opportunity to hear and believe the Good News. The Bible says how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them that share Good News. The Gospel armour includes the shoes of readiness to share the Gospel.
EXAMPLES: Here are some ways you can give: give a Bible; a New Testament; the Gospel of John; a CD; Gospel tract; evangelistic website; card or letter with a clear Gospel message on it; write your testimony down and include it with the card; like the shepherds, personally speak to other about fact that a Saviour has been born – knock on some doors tell your neighbours. We have good news to share.
2. Giving gifts to the poor and needy. Jesus was born into a poor family. The poor and needy will never hear the Gospel if they die of starvation. In the developing world, 21 children die every minute. Jesus had a special heart for the poor. There is a strong biblical example of giving to the poor to celebrate God’s salvation of his people. This happened at the time of Queen Esther and Mordecai whom God used to save his people from annihilation. We read in Ester 9:19 and 22 that in their celebrations they sent “portions” to others (the custom was to send portions of the festive food (eg. Nehemiah 8:10, 12) - not presents as we buy today - to family especially and friends who could not make it to the festival) and gave gifts to the poor.
EXAMPLES: If you visit our Christmas Charity page, you will see some wonderful ways that you can give. Gifts include things like chickens and goats. We’re not kidding! Our Christmas Charity page features the work of Tear Fund but also provides links to other organisations who do a great work in reaching out to the poor and needy.
The Bible does not command us to give gifts to celebrate the birth of Christ. Nor does it say we cannot. However, it does provide us with accounts of how people responded when they first encountered the Saviour. We see two basic responses: FIRST, the magi gave gifts that spoke of who he Jesus is and why he came. The shepherds response is similar: once they had seen Jesus, they “made known abroad” the news that the Saviour of the world had been born (Luke 2:17). SECOND, the magi’s gifts were practical provision for a poor family who were being called into a great mission, the greatest mission of all.
If you chose to give at Christmas as an act of worship to Christ himself, and if you want to truly follow the examples of the magi and shepherds, then whatever else you do, make giving to Christ’s mission and to the poor your priority this Christmas.
Some of us may need to turn our Christmas shopping focus on its head. Does this mean you shouldn’t buy that pair of socks for hubby? Well, it could mean don’t buy that plasma TV or it could mean buy 2 pair of socks for hubby and send 5 pair to the poor. It could mean go through your wardrobe and give away all the stuff you don’t need.
The point is that if we as Christians want to say, to claim, that our giving is because we are following the ones who followed the star, then we really need to follow their lead and give in worship as they gave? And let us not forget the shepherds response. If you need a reminder, scroll back up the page and consider once again how people originally gave in celebration of the gift of Christ, then answer the quiz below.
Which of the following best represents how you give at Christmas?
Rather than giving to support Christ’s missions or giving to the poor being what it sometimes is – a tag on at the end of our Christmas shopping – let’s make this our passion, our priority, our privilege, our pleasure, our purpose, our prayer and our prophetic proclamation that a Saviour has been born.