Though Illinois winters can be cold and grey, bright spots we should remember as the new year gets underway are the Christmas gifts that we can now enjoy! For example, I received several pairs of funny or unusual socks this year. Each time I pull on a new pair I smile and think about how I will explain them to anyone who notices.
I also received a fun poster comparing the highest points in each U.S. state, from 20,310-foot Denali in Alaska to 1,235-foot Charles Mound in Illinois. Each time I see it now, I think about when and with whom I might climb some of those summits, including Charles Mound.
A few faraway family and friends sent baskets of treats, or gift cards to a favorite restaurant. We are still nibbling on some of those goodies and eagerly anticipating a night out to that special restaurant.
We can enjoy gifts given at Christmas for a long time. Unfortunately, as time passes, we may also forget who gave us something, or that it was a gift at all. Recently I made the mistake of asking my wife to remind me which one of our sons gave me a gift I was really enjoying. Shaking her head and rolling her eyes, she replied, “I gave that to you. You’re welcome.”
Sometimes it’s simply the passage of time that makes us forget the source of our gifts. Or perhaps the gift wasn’t that special or useful. But I think it can also be that we don’t make special enough the moments in which significant gifts are bestowed.
For example, my parents helped fund all four of their children’s college educations. As our little sister’s college commencement approached, we realized it would be easy for us to take their sacrificial gift for granted. So, at her graduation party, we presented my parents with a sheet cake that read, “Thanks, Mom and Dad, for college.” Each of us then expressed our thanks personally, sharing what their sacrifice meant to us. Remembering that moment now allows us to live in continual gratitude for their gift.
In a sense, Christmas and Easter and Pentecost Sunday and other celebrations in our churches are “moments to remember” the great gifts we have been given in Christ. They should also motivate us to use those gifts actively and sacrificially for his glory, all the time.
God’s gifts to us are both lifelong and eternal. He graciously and generously gives salvation, his Spirit, his word, his faithfulness and provision, deep and lasting relationships through our churches, and eternity with him in heaven. He gives us spiritual gifts to use in service to one another and on mission to those who don’t yet know Him. Our very life and breath for each new day comes from Him.
But unless we remember, all year long, Jesus as the source of all those good gifts, we risk living our lives as if we earned or deserve those things ourselves, and as if they are ours to consume and not gifts to be shared with others.
I think we may distribute Christmas gifts differently at our house next year. Instead of having all the presents under the tree handed out to everyone all at once by a couple of eager elves, I think we will slow things down and let each gift giver hand each gift personally to each gift recipient. I think there may be something about remembering the moment in which a gift is bestowed, and the face of the person who bestows it, that will help us remember the giver, and to use the gift all year long with a more grateful heart.