Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Gifts We Don't Need

My wife and I braved the “Black Friday” shopping day in Greenville, SC this year. It has become a tradition for us in the last three years. I’m not much of a shopper, so it might seem odd that I enjoy this shopping day. However, if you think about it, not enjoying shopping is precisely why I love this one, big shopping day. We are able to complete our Christmas shopping all in one day.

Each year I think about the people who we are buying Christmas presents for. We like to see them open them and appreciate what we gave them, but I know that they really don’t need for us to buy them a present. I am the same way. I am grateful for what people buy me, but I really don’t need anything.

However, there are many who we pass each day who are needful. It is these people who I think of each year. Each year my Christmas wish is the same. I wish we could put some reigns on the madness of Christmas giving to those who do not need the things we give, and give to those who do.

I read a story this week that you may have seen before. The story is true, and was written by Nancy W. Gavin. She wrote it for a contest that the magazine Woman’s Day was holding in 1982. She won first place.

It is the story of a “small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.” She goes on to write, “It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas---oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it-overspending...the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma -- the gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything else. Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.”

Her inspiration came at a wrestling match that their 12 year-old was in. the other team from a poorer side of town, and the boys lacked the proper equipment. Nancy went out and bought what was needed and gave the equipment anonymously to the other team. She wrote on the envelope what she had done, and put it in the tree. She said, “His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years.”

Each year she found a new recipient and she said, “The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.”

In 1981 her husband died of cancer. Nancy writes of that year, “When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.”

As you begin all the festivities of this Christmas season, remember that the greatest gift is one that comes from your heart, not out of a sense of obligation. Jesus did not leave all the glory of Heaven because of any obligation. He became one of us because he wanted to. It was the ultimate gift of the heart.

Nancy W. Gavin’s last line in her story is what I leave with you. “May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.”

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 NIV)