There is an old saying that the greatest things in life aren’t things. Our greatest gifts are those we love, beginning with God and extending to one another.
One of the great dangers at Christmastime (and with life in general) is that we maximize the minimum and minimize the maximum, or, as Jesus puts it, we strain out gnats and swallow camels (Matt 23:24). He said this about the religiously observant of His day, who meticulously followed small, technical rules about cleanliness and ritual purity, but neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matt 23:22).
In other words, at Christmas we can focus so much on buying things and arranging various events that we neglect or even harm those who are our greatest gift.
Consider the sad situation that many now largely set aside the once-sacred Thanksgiving holiday when people could spend time with family and enjoy their company. And why is this? So that stores can be open for people to leave the people they love in order to run out and buy things for them. The gift eclipses both the giver and the recipient. And on top of that, we potentially sin against charity by creating a climate that requires the poor and those of the lower-wage working class to work on Thanksgiving Day.
Add to this the short tempers at the shopping malls (often caused by heavy traffic, long lines, and out-of-stock items) and the impression is created that things are more important than people. Not everyone suffers from this, but it is a problem.
The video below provides a touching reminder that the truer purpose of a gift is the well-being of another and the love we can show at Christmas.
The basic scene is that two snowmen are built, a kind of husband-and-wife, snowman family. But one has, and the other has not. Seeing his wife’s need, the husband snowman sets out, enduring great hardship and overcoming many obstacles, in order to get for his wife what she needs. The greatest gifts are those that show care for another.
Through the window, the “creator” of the snowman watches this act of love unfold. At the touching end of the video, the creator is very pleased.
And so, too, our Creator and Lord is watching from the window of Heaven, and He is pleased with our acts of mercy as well.
The greatest things in life aren’t things; they are those we love. And the greater gift this Christmas is not so much the things we give, as it is the care and love we extend through those gifts, and the shared gift of our very selves.
*Image: King Nebuchadnezzar as a Wild Animal by an unknown artist, c. 1400-1410 [J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA]. The image refers to Daniel 4: 25-35: the prophet tells the king that he will lose his mind and live like a beast for seven years. The illustration is from Rudolf von Ems’ Weltchronik or “world chronicle” written in the mid-1200s.