Advent is about joy—the joyful gift wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, whom the shepherds beheld. How often do we reflect upon that joy as we give and receive gifts at Christmas time?
Gift exchanges marks the Christmas season. It’s all too easy to turn such gift exchanges into giving and receiving stuff rather than sharing life. Such exchanges may be filled with happiness, but that initial feeling of happiness may soon wear off like the shimmer and shine of wrapping paper. Is that all there is to Christmas cheer?
There is a major difference between Christmas cheer and happiness bound up with exchanging stuff and the greatest Christmas gift of all involving “Joy to the world—the Savior comes!” The angels exhorted the shepherds not to fear, since the heavenly host brought good tidings of great joy: the Savior, Christ the Lord, has come to share life with them, and with all people everywhere.
It is certainly fine to exchange gifts at Christmas time, just so long as such exchanges do not stand in place of sharing life with one another. Here we can learn a thing or two from Martin Luther in his meditation on believers’ union with Christ, which involves a “joyful exchange.” Luther wrote:
Just think what it would be like to participate in a Christmas gift exchange where we bring all our internal junk and filth to give to Jesus and in turn he shares his pure life with us and adorns us with his goodness, not just as a one off, but forever! Talk about a joyful exchange!
This week and season, as you exchange gifts with friends and loved ones, reflect upon the joyful exchange we experience with Jesus. In view of Jesus’ life that he shares with us, allow the joy of his relational goodness to adorn your various encounters. And may those exchanges not replace shared life but reflect his relational goodness throughout the year.
Martin Luther, “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989, page 604.