The Great Gift Exchange

The great gift exchange is upon us again. It is a season of unrealistic expectations wrapped up in credit card statements. In our hearts we believe the Hallmark version of Christmas, but every year expectations get crushed. Many lie through their teeth with an exclamation of, “I love it!” We accept a gift with thankful words, and then discard the item quicker than you can say, “Peace on earth and Goodwill stores for all men.” It is a scene that will be repeated thousands of times in the coming weeks. Somewhere in the world right now, someone is sliding a plate of awful Christmas cookies into the waste bin beneath the kitchen sink, and the bow is still attached. You know who you are.

Then there is the moment when you give someone a gift, and they smile and say, “Oh, but you shouldn’t have.” And what they really meant to say is, “Oh, but you shouldn’t have because I have nothing for you. Zip. Nada. Didn’t really think of you at all. Awkward.” You stand there, each of you holding the fake smile for as long as you can bear it while crickets chirp in the background. This is perhaps the worst feeling of all. Expectations can be so cruel.

Now lest you think I am some sort of Christmas Grinch, I have a point to this. How does it feel to be the one giving a gift but not receiving one back? Do you feel forgotten? Do you feel less valued? It would be human if you felt this way. But how does God feel when this happens to him? How does he feel when he gives us a gift, but we give him nothing back? Does he feel forgotten? Does he feel less valued? Sometimes I wonder.

God gave us the gift of his son Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. With eager hands we accept his gift of salvation. But what does God get from us? In this celestial gift exchange, what is the gift that we give back to him? What could God possibly want from me?

Think about it. What can you give God that he does not already have? He doesn’t need a gift card or cash. He created the world and everything in it. If he wanted something, he could just create it with a word. Poof! Done. So what can we give God that he can’t create by himself? He has everything, right? Well, almost.

What we give back to him is relationship, and that is all he really wants.

Think back with me to the Garden of Eden. God has just created the universe, the world, and every living thing in it. But when he created man, it was unique in all of his creation. Why? Because we were the only creation with whom he wanted to have a relationship. In the Genesis account, we learn that God would come down to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the garden. Why would he do that? Because he loved them and loved the relationship with them.

Then sin entered the world and the relationship between God and his creation was forever altered. From this point forward, God was at work trying to restore the relationship. Man, not so much. But God wanted the relationship so deeply that he finally sent his own son to die on our behalf. Why would he do that? Because he loves us and wants a relationship with his creation. Through the years we changed the story to make it all about us and the forgiveness of our sins. But the reality is that this story, this gift, is all about God and his desire to restore relationship with his creation.

When we accept God’s great gift of forgiveness, we should be overwhelmed by his great love and kindness to us. But it shouldn’t stop there. We should give back to him the gift that would bless him the most – our lives in a loving relationship with him.

I should come to God and say, “Because you’ve loved me so much that you gave me this amazing gift of forgiveness, I want to give you a special gift as well. I give you my love, my life, my time, my everything. I want to know you. I want to spend time with you. I want you to know that I love you with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind.”

When we do this, I imagine God opens wide his arms in embrace, as he smiles and says, “I love it!” And with God, it’s true. It is the great gift exchange. It is a merry Christmas indeed.

That you and I are unique in all of God’s creation should humble us. That God should desire this relationship so deeply that he would give the life of his son should astound us. That we would cast aside this gift after receiving it and never give him the gift of relationship back should appall us. After all, the gift from God is the opportunity for relationship. It is merely wrapped in salvation. Let us not be guilty of discarding the gift and playing with the box instead. Let us give back to God the gift that will bless him the most – our hearts and lives in relationship with him.

It’s the great gift exchange. My friend, what are you planning to give?

This article was originally published in the December 2015 Newsletter.