When I was about ten years old, our mother decided to grace we three brothers with swimming suits that she would sew herself. The intent: To give us the gift of appropriate California swimwear. After a careful process of sewing together swimsuit fabric according to a chosen pattern, she presented us with the finished trunks.
Were the swimsuits a gift? Not until we received them. Which we did, but with some trepidation. Our mother had chosen a pattern that was decidedly uncool for boys our age—smiley whales! Were these items a gift now? Not really, because we never wore them. They remained unused. Her intent was good—generosity and love—and the giving/receiving happened as it’s supposed to. But lacking actual usefulness, these would-be swimming trunks never rose to the level of being a gift.
During this holy season, I see and hear a lot about “the gift of God in Jesus Christ”. I sometimes wonder how these utterances fit with what I’ve just described as the full measure of a gift: Intending, giving, receiving, using.
God’s intent is pretty clear, and pretty wonderful. At Christmas we celebrate the arrival of Jesus—and during the rest of the church year that gift keeps being given in his life and teachings. Because I claim Christ as Lord and Savior, I receive the love of God that comes through Jesus by my joyful acceptance of what I can never deserve.
In tangible terms, though, what’s useful about this gift? How does this part of God’s benevolence have value in my daily life? Or does this gift more closely resemble those swimming suits, given/received but never put to work?
I’m not satisfied with a “gift of God in Jesus” script when it stays locked inside its glorious stories. I like the stories—I was raised on them, and I still tear up when I participate in Christmas Even worship. But being a Christian is about more than liking dear, tender Christmas stories.
I am convinced that Jesus-as-God’s-gift is useful every day. In the witness of God’s people around me, I see Jesus’ actions and teachings played out in thousands of gritty stories—people doing the right thing, love motivating changed lives, self-images steeped in self-sacrifice. Because of what Jesus did during his short life, I know how forgiveness works. I am certain that my death won’t be the end of me. Today I can give someone else the love, understanding or acceptance that they sorely need. I am not bent under the weight of corruption and injustice in the political realm. I listen to and learn from others. I teach and witness to God’s grace. I come across Good News in hidden places.
All this gift-usefulness happens in the company of the rest of Jesus-gifted people—members of a fellowship of believers around the world. People who this day will know for certain that God has graced them with an incomparable, useful gift.
Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord!
POSTSCRIPT: Although the swimming trunks were never used for their intended purpose, they eventually found a valued place in our lives. Many years later, our mother gave each of us the same material, now resewn into useful ditty bags with drawstrings. She was definitely appreciated for her loving intent and her giving. This time around, her gift was definitely well-received. And her gift was definitely used—I still have mine to this day.