By Joy Crichton
It was the Sunday after Christmas and our church family had returned from their travels. Stan and Sandy greeted me. “So, how was your Christmas?” I asked them.
“You know,” Stan answered, a smile turning up his lips, “Christmas would be nice if it weren’t for family.”
We laughed at his joke, but the truth is, Christmas celebrations are often marred because of friction between family members. Whether it’s Christmas or not, when we gather, what we bring determines whether there is welcome and warmth or strife and rejection.
It all comes down to the gift exchange. Paul identified the useless gifts we offered to each other before we knew Christ—sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed (Colossians 3:3-10). In other words, the gifts we exchanged with one another came from distorted love—love ruined by the sin we carried deep in our souls. And if that wasn’t bad enough, we wrapped our distorted love in distorted speech: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language. It turned the comfort, empathy, and security of our community into conflict and turmoil—and it was all due to unworthy gifts.
Treasures Worth Giving
Paul said to put away those unworthy gifts because we have better gifts to present now that Christ sits on the throne of our hearts.
Did you ever wish you had more to give? About a year ago dear friends of ours gave us a nearly new car. These friends have always been extremely generous. When I shop for gifts for them, I just wish I had more to give. In a way that is what Paul pointed out to those of us who know Christ. We used to offer gifts that were ruined, not worthy gifts. But now we have more to give. We have costly gifts to present.
We have gifts like mercy—the kind of mercy Jesus had when he looked on the multitudes. When he looked on the thousands of curious people, instead of thinking, Why didn’t they think ahead and bring themselves something to eat? Jesus had compassion on them and fed them (Matthew 14:13-21). In spite of their failures, he longed to meet their needs.
The same kindness the Good Samaritan showed—compassion that acts—can come from us (Luke 10:25-37). Humble love that doesn’t demand reciprocation or spring from self-serving motives can flow from us and at the same time protect our relationships from the poison of self-love.
We come to our gatherings with loved ones and instead of inflicting injury, we can lay ourselves open, putting up with one another, taking the wrong for love’s sake. And most of all, we can offer forgiveness as freely as God offers it to us (Colossians 3:12-14).
The great thing about the new gifts we bring to exchange is that they are always in vogue. When these gifts are opened, the heart cries, “It’s just what I wanted” or exclaims with relief, “I needed that.” And these gifts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness are one size fits all.
Preparing Our Treasures
Yet make no mistake about it, these simple treasures we bring might not cost us money but they are costly.
My sister Pam was the first of us three sisters to wed. She and Bill married while they were still in college. Poor took on a whole new meaning as we watched them struggle to pay two college bills plus rent and groceries. Those years Pam lovingly used her meager funds to make us Christmas gifts—aprons, dishtowels, Bible covers. They were simple gifts from the heart. They didn’t cost her a lot of money, but they were costly. She had to think ahead and be creative. They weren’t gifts gathered hastily the night before Christmas but were gifts that required planning and preparation.
So it is with these priceless treasures of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness that we hope to present to those in our extended families and communities in Christ. It takes heart preparation. The Word of Christ must dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16, 17) if we hope to offer kindness to sharp personalities and forgiveness to those who trample on our reputations and feelings.
When we lived in South Africa, a group of wealthy businessmen used to underwrite a weekend stay for us at a high-end luxury resort in the mountains. There were snow-white plush robes hanging behind the bathroom door, the sashes perfectly tied and centered. The sheets were starched, and in the evening a maid would come, turn down the beautiful duvets, and leave chocolates on our pillows. The difference between this room and the less expensive rooms was mostly found in the details. Everything down to the folded end on the toilet paper roll added to the richness of the room.
If the Word of Christ is to dwell in us richly, it must reach into every detail of our lives. The repeated question should arise in our minds with each family gathering: How did Christ behave when railed on, lied about, and persecuted (Philippians 2:1-12)? So we consider: What would be the God-glorifying response to a mother-in-law’s cruel remarks? Is the content the family is watching on the screen consistent with the holiness of our God? Are my actions saying true things about the one who gave his life in sacrifice for sin?
This Word-permeated life comes only from reading, meditating, memorizing, and studying Scripture. How do we respond with a soft answer to a brother’s snide remarks or a daughter-in-law’s criticism? It is possible when the Holy Spirit reminds us that “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1) and to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:3, 4).
Our response to betrayal or unfounded accusations can be met with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-17).
Worthy gifts come at the cost of time spent in intimate pursuit of God. Just as there is no magic formula for weight loss aside from exercise and eating right, so there aren’t any shortcuts to knowing God. It takes dedicated, focused time with him, studying the lines of his face in the lines of his Word.
The Treasure We Possess
It all sounds good from the apostle Paul, but Paul doesn’t know how hard it is to live with that brother or sister or cousin or uncle. We want to offer those priceless treasures, but we’re afraid we just don’t have it in us. Good news! Paul said, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). If we know Christ as Savior, we possess the treasure of him. We don’t have the power to forgive, love humbly, or be meek and patient ourselves, but he has the power in him and he dwells in us.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, enjoyed the wonderful privilege of carrying the Christ child in her body. Just like the tabernacle that the wanderers dragged through the wilderness, Mary’s body provided a dwelling for the Most High God. We, too, are like a tabernacle for the Most High God. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). He dwells in us—we jars of clay—and displays the excellency of his power by empowering us to forgive, love, and be humble, kind, patient, and forbearing. We are the simple vessel and he is the treasure.
So let us leave our distorted love and speech in the garbage pile of our life before Christ and exchange with one another better gifts worthy of our calling—simple treasures from our priceless Lord.
Joy Crichton is a minister’s wife, mother of five, English teacher, and blogger in Johnston, Rhode Island.