By Mike Glenn
The Worst Christmas Present Ever
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had turned 16 the previous November, and for the first time, I was able to drive and buy Christmas presents all by myself. I was working after school. I had my own money. I was almost totally self-sufficient. I can still remember the exhilaration of freedom while I drove in and out of the shopping centers and paid for the gifts with my own money.
I was a man.
My family had long since given up trying to surprise each other. We just told each other what we wanted, and we divvied up who would get what for whom. For this particular Christmas, I got Mom’s list. On that list was a robe. Mom said she needed a robe, and it was up to me to go buy it for her. I’ll save you the details of an awkward sixteen-year-old boy in the ladies’ department of JC Penney’s holding up robes to see if they would be tall enough for my mom (my mom was 5’10”).
I ended up selecting a very nice red, white, and blue polyester number (you have to remember this was the seventies). I thought I had done quite well. I went home, wrapped it up, and placed the gift under the tree. I was very proud of myself. I had handled my business and taken care of Christmas all by myself.
Everything was great until Christmas Eve. My parents had been at a church event, and when Mom and Dad came in, she called my brother and me into the kitchen to show us something. And what do you think she had to show us?
That’s right. A robe.
And not just any robe, a beautiful, velvet, hand embroidered robe from the Ladies’ Sunday School class she taught.
Christmas just blew up in my face.
It was late on Christmas Eve, too late to return my gift. I had to wait through the night, dreading the awful moment when Mom would open my gift and try not to laugh in my face. My robe was nothing compared to the work of art Mom’s Sunday School class had given to her.
The dreaded moment came. Mom opened my present. She pulled it from the box and held it up for our family to see. She held it up and went on and on about how I had done a great job picking out just what she wanted in a robe.
I didn’t believe her. How could I? The other robe was exquisite. My robe looked shabby and plain. Who am I kidding? It looked cheap.
Nonsense, my mom said. My gift was perfect. The Sunday School class had given her a very fancy robe, but it was too fancy for everyday use. I had given her something she could use. (Only when I became a parent did I realize what a masterful job my mom had done. She was a genius for how she made me feel that Christmas morning).
I had given her something “useful”.
I think of this story every year at Christmas. Not because I was scarred by my unfortunate shopping adventure, but because I understand how the wise men must have felt. Think about it. They had journeyed for who knows how long, to find a king who had recently been born.Against all odds, they find him, and what do they bring Him? Gold. Frankincense. Myrrh. Really? For a little kid? Leave it to guys to bring totally inappropriate gifts to a baby shower.
Sure, I know the symbolism of each gift, but I really don’t think the wise men had thought through their shopping on that level. I think they were bringing things they thought were cool. That’s what every guy buys –things they like. That’s why you find every dad playing with their kids’ toys at Christmas.
Now, I’m sure Joseph put these extravagant gifts to good use. I’m sure he cashed them in and used the resources to take care of his family for some time.
That would have been one way to make them useful.
Useful. There’s that word again.
Too many times, when we come to Christmas, we think our gifts must be extravagant. Husbands think they have to buy diamonds for their wives. Wives think they have to buy gold watches for their husbands. Parents lavish gifts on their children, and friends worry about what’s appropriate given their level of friendship.
We work ourselves into anxious frenzies trying to get just the right gift.
When it comes to Jesus, we’re too embarrassed to try. After all, what could we ever get Jesus, the Son of God? He has everything. He IS everything.
I don’t know. Perhaps we could give Him something useful.
Useful – like a pair of hands strong enough to carry a cup of water to a thirsty neighbor.
Useful – like two legs willing to walk over to a lonely acquaintance and ask how they are doing.
Useful – like two ears to listen to someone’s journey of pain.
Useful – something Jesus can use tomorrow and the day after doing the work of His kingdom.
So, this year when your mind gets quiet and you think about what the wise men brought to Jesus, don’t get hung up on their gifts. Remember, their gifts were appropriately extravagant.
But the little boy’s lunch of 2 fish and 5 loaves was used by Jesus to feed the 5,000.
We don’t always have to be rich kings from faraway places. Sometimes, we can be the little boy who just happens to be there with something Jesus can use.
Perhaps, like my mom, Jesus could use something practical this year. You know…useful.
The kingdom is built, and worship is given in a million different ways. Gold, frankincense, myrrh, two fish and five loaves…
So, this Christmas, bring what you have to Jesus. I’m sure He’ll find it useful.