There are two ways of looking at the gifts we’ve received this Christmas. One is the measuring way: each gift can be placed on scales of quality, taste and price, and we can draw conclusions about how much the giver thinks we’re worth. The other is the relational way: we can start from the other end, thinking about our relationship with the giver and the thought they have put into choosing this gift for us, and that may lead us to judge the gift in a way that has nothing to do with its inherent quality or value. Every parent knows the delight of receiving a badly wrapped and worthless present which means the world to them because it’s the first one their child has chosen and wrapped just for them.
The hobbits in Tolkien’s stories used to recycle gifts all the time, so that the same gifts were passed from one to another, but the significance was in choosing the right one for the right person at the right time.
This Christmas has been hard for many people, as they have had less money to spend on presents, but the real value of any gift is in what it symbolises, the way it makes visible and tangible the unseen love the giver has for the one receiving the gift. When a gift symbolises a flow of love from one person to another, it becomes the perfect gift, no matter what it is.
The gifts the wise men bring in the gospel story show that they recognise the baby in the manger: gold because they know he is to be a king, frankincense to indicate his divinity, and myrrh to symbolise the death by which he will save the world. These same gifts also say something about the wise men themselves: gold means that they offer their virtues, frankincense shows they are people of prayer and myrrh represents their willingness to sacrifice.
The greatest gift we can give to anyone is to show we love them by the way we behave towards them. The gift that Jesus wants from us can’t be bought in a shop or online: like the love we have for the people in our lives, it has to be given over and over again every day.
May the coming year be filled with gifts for each of us, may we be grateful for the love they symbolise and may we be generous in giving love to each other and to the God who made us and saves us.