I would guess that more than a few of us come to Christmas each year with some mix of excitement and at least a slight bit of apprehension. Perhaps I over-externalize but I find myself wondering what reaction there will be to the gifts I give. I try to give in a genuine spirit of love and with a minimum of expectation.
I want these gifts to be liked, appreciated and enjoyed. Even though I do not give with the notion of impressing anyone, I do hope my giving is received as intended: an expression of love and affection. I think that is fitting with the very first “Christmas.”
A careful reading of the gospel accounts, as contrasted to the more modern blending of carols, advertising and un-careful storytelling, shows that it was the shepherds only who came to the stable. (By the time the magi arrived, Jesus was approaching two years of age, hence Herod’s order to kill all the male toddlers in the vicinity.)The shepherds found, as promised by angels, a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger. They rejoiced and proclaimed their story that this was the promised Messiah, born in Bethlehem as prophesied.
Thus, it was their belief, adoration and proclamation that were the true first gifts. And so, I believe, apart from the costs and appraisals of our modern day exchanges, the real gifts of Christmas are not purchased at stores and wrapped in paper and bows. The true gifts are our faith in family and friends, our exchanges of genuine love and affection, and our time spent together in sharing our stories and in listening to one another.
To me, this is a liberating awareness: even if we are as poor as shepherds and regarded as living among the least of all occupations, we can still give the greatest gifts. No matter how broke we may be, no matter how lean our living, we can still give of ourselves.