In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’– Acts 20:35
Someone is always left off the Christmas list right? Blame it on inflation, distance, or lack of time and money, but there’s always someone we could give a gift to that we just can’t for some reason. Maybe it’s awkward to be around them during the Christmas season because the shame of not providing them with some material possession is too much.
But does that inability to provide another with stuff say anything meaningful about who we are? It may say something about our budget or financial resources, but it does not say anything at all about the core of our identity. And yet, we imagine it does at times. We feel bad, we make excuses, or we avoid talking about it all together. These responses actually say a lot about who we are, and also the environment of consumerism that we live in. It’s unfortunate that Christmas has become associated with the exchange of material goods because that particular exchange doesn’t necessarily demonstrate the health of our relationships. In fact it can function as a cover up of the scarcity of relational depth. Gift giving can become a means to cover our felt insufficiency or fill up relational gaps with material things. Feeling guilty about not being a great friend? Haven’t spent enough time with your in-laws? Have you been ghosting that certain person for a while? Gift giving covers a multitude of sins!
Now of course, there are many healthy reasons for gift giving. It should be an overflow of what already exists between two people relationally, or maybe it’s an extravagant act of generosity to someone in need or an act of gratitude. At the end of the day we must ask ourselves why we do it or not. If we don’t give gifts, have we failed? I think that answer is no, and that there is something more we can give that doesn’t require money.
What if we could just own our limits around material giving and get creative with giving our “presence” instead of “presents”?
As believers we have been transformed by Christ’s presence within us, and thus we can be a transforming presence to those around us as Christ shines through us. We are made in God’s image as relational beings, so it shouldn’t surprise us that God uses us to bring transformation through relationships. Intentional fellowship ought to be an integral part of a Christian’s life (1 Thess. 5:11, Heb. 10:25, Acts 2:42). Perhaps we set aside time to get coffee or to share a meal to invest in one another’s lives. Now, maybe you’re wondering what to talk about or what to do with that time. There are many ways to go about this, but we could consider the four virtues of Advent (similar to what we’re doing in our Advent Devo) and see how our transformed presence can give hope, love, peace and joy.
A hopeful presence acknowledges the pain others are in without sugarcoating it, and yet because the hope of the gospel is so powerful we can offer hope in the darkest of circumstances. God accomplished the humanly impossible by reconciling sinners to himself. This provides an immediate hope in his indwelling presence and a future hope of resurrection. This truth allows us to stare pain and death in the face and not lose hope. It may be incredibly difficult to walk with another through some pain this season, but consider how you can have a hopeful presence this season.
A loving presence is one that is patient, kind, does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7). That’s a pretty big list to work on! How can you show up in your relationships as a loving presence? If you’re feeling stuck, remember that if you want to help others you must first be resourced in God’s love for you. You can only give what you have received, for “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Be sure to abide in God’s love so that you can overflow with love to others.
A peaceful presence does not seek strife (peace-breaking), but also does not ignore wrongdoing (peace-faking). God, in creating peace through Christ’s work on the cross, did not brush sin under the rug or come to the world to condemn the world. He came to save it by dealing directly and lovingly with our deepest problems. How can you step into some of the messy situations with your family and friends with a peaceful presence that points to the gospel?
Showing up with a truly joyful presence is incredibly hard. Christians often report “fake joy” in life because deep down there’s still a reason to hold back, to not experience true joy, and to just paste a smile on. However the “joy of our salvation” as Psalm 51 puts it is rooted in our forgiveness and being reconciled to God. That is something no circumstance can take away. The question is, are we rooted and grounded in our identity as redeemed rebels who are now beloved children? When we forget our identity, we cannot experience true joy because joy comes from knowing and living into that identity.
So where is your identity found this Christmas? Hopefully it is not found in the quality of your gift giving or lack thereof, but rooted and grounded in the gospel. May we be people who are givers of a transformed presence to all people, even those who didn’t make our Christmas list!