Christmas: Giving presents, being present
As much as we know that Christmas is not about presents, we also know that somehow presents are still a really good part of Christmas celebrations. To have something handed to you that someone else has bought or made with you in mind, and having thought about what might bring you some joy is – let’s face it – just really nice. And that sense of being considered is multiplied if the gift is something appropriate, something you really like and something which has clearly been given some thought. And there, for me at least, lies the rub.
In spite of the rampant consumerism presents may reflect, in spite of the risk of being seen as a cheap expression of our consideration for those we give them to, and in spite of the way they so often betray the lowly and humble origins of Christmas – presents are still a great way to remind others that they are important to us.
I just don’t think the tradition of present-giving at Christmas would have survived the slings and arrows of the faith that Christmas represents if there hadn’t been something inherently valuable and affirming in it. But what is it about present giving that is so attractive to people far from the Church’s walls and influence?
This may seem a rather obvious question given that we all like to get things, but I’m sure many of us have experienced times when all the presents in the world simply wouldn’t help; where the losses confronting us were far greater than any small gift could make up for. The death of a loved partner, child, friend or relative; the loss of one’s health, career, job, house or future: these simply cannot be dealt with by giving someone a present.
I cannot help but think now of all the people in North Canterbury and around Kaikoura who are isolated and dealing with these kind of issues. I know that Christmas this year will be very difficult for them. Giving towards their great need will make some difference, but for those facing the loss of their livelihood, way of life, income, homes and, for some, their loved ones – presents simply won’t help.
What will make a difference, however, is the sense that they are being heard in all of their grief and loss – that someone is on the journey with them and that they are not alone. I spent three days in North Canterbury recently listening to, and trying to understand, people as they coped with the enormity of the losses. I could do very little materially or practically to relieve their situation, but the relief I felt from those who were able to share their situation was palpable.
From farmers who looked likely to lose their farms to business owners struggling to access government help – all I could do was be there and listen, and yet that seemed to be OK. To provide a listening ear, to struggle to understand their pain – even if I could do little to alleviate it – that counted.
In many ways the same can be said for presents. Where a present conveys the notion that someone is willing to be a companion in life, a listener, a supporter – then the present will always be welcome because what really counts in life, is love. The question in all our hearts is – “Does someone love me… am I worthy of being loved?” When a present can be used to say “yes” to this question – it’s worth making the effort to give. Mother Theresa once said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty”.
I believe our greatest gift is to address this loneliness in any way we can. So this year as you consider your gift giving, think about how the simple act of offering a listening ear, sharing a thoughtfully considered gift, or simply being there can make someone feel wanted, loved and cherished. Gifts don’t need to be expensive, nor do they need to be tangible to bring joy to the gift giver, the recipient and God. Be a cheerful giver this Christmas, and share what you are able, to make a difference in the lives of others. “7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 47)
God Bless you and yours this Christmas.
Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand