The Gift Of Christmas Presence

I don’t know about you, but the Christmas shopping season is driving me nuts.

Every year, “Black Friday” sales begin earlier and earlier. Back in the day, stores began opening at 8am. Then 7am. Then 5am. Last week, “Black Friday” sales began Thursday night. On Thanksgiving.

American consumerism has taken Thanksgiving hostage!

Not to be outdone by local retailers, the “Cyber Monday” folks have been pummeling us with emails. And this year, the faint whimperings of “Small Business Saturday” have been heard.

I feel like Peter Finch’s character Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network. Fired over sagging ratings, the aging news anchor, while giving his final newscast, looks into the TV camera and yells, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Not to beat a dead horse, but I can’t resist reinforcing my fellow blogger (and co-pastor) Eugene Scott’s excellent post about rampant consumerism. There must be a better way—and there is.

The Difference Between Presents And Presence

While lamenting the rampant consumerism in an Advent planning meeting recently, our youth director mentioned a group of churches in the northwest that produced a series of resources entitled “The Advent Conspiracy.” Their message is simple:

  • Worship Fully—remember that the focus of the Christmas season is Jesus.
  • Spend Less—spending more money on stuff at Christmas doesn’t make it more meaningful.
  • Give More—because the message about Christmas is about God’s gift to us, it becomes more meaningful when we give to others.
  • Love All—we can join Jesus in his gift to the world by loving the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick.

(The video at the beginning of this post provides a great overview of The Advent Conspiracy.)

Their message is this: Rather than stress over purchasing the perfect present, look for ways that you can give better presence. To God. To each other.

Jesus Is God’s Presence

Here’s how the prophet Isaiah foretold the day of the coming messiah: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 emphasis added).

Then, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was identified as this “Immanuel” (see Matthew 1:23).

And what does “Immanuel” mean? God with us. Jesus wasn’t just God’s present to us, he was God’s presence with us.

The best gift God could give humanity wasn’t a cool iPad 2 or even peace on earth. The best gift he could give was himself. Presence. And he did—he gave us Jesus, “God with us.”

You Can Generously Give Presence Too!

A woman in our church designed a handout for our congregation that offers ideas for giving away our presence. Some of her ideas include:

  • Have a family game night.
  • Go caroling in your neighborhood.
  • See Christmas lights together.
  • Resurrect an old family recipe and make it together.
  • Take a vacation from TV.
  • Pray together.
  • Talk about what it means to be present rather than only give presents.

When we focus on spending money, giving the perfect gift, and getting what we wanted for Christmas, it becomes so me-centered. It’s funny—I can remember only four or five Christmas presents I’ve received over my 47 years of life. Relationships, however, have impacted me so much more than any gadget or toy.

This Advent season, I ask you to join me in following in Jesus’ footsteps. Let’s make giving better presence a higher priority than giving better presents this holiday season.

So I’m curious. Do you have any ideas for giving presence? Please jump into the conversation and let us know!

If you don’t have plans for celebrating the birth of Jesus during this Advent season and you live in the Denver, Colorado area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church as we explore The Gift Of Christmas Presence.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. While he’d still like an iPad 2 for Christmas, he realizes it won’t fill the hole in his heart.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “The Gift Of Christmas Presence

  1. Todd Lowther

    Funny, when you said in 47 years you only remember a few Christmas gifts you received, I thought of the “one” I remember the most–a pair of socks. My dad had been unemployed for about a year and my mom had returned to work in a low-paying nursing job. Literally, all she could afford was a pair of socks. I remember the gift because I was so disappointed. Now it’s a reminder of how sacrificial my mother was and how thankful I should be.

  2. It’s interesting how time can explain our disappointments and turn them into opportunities for thanksgiving and worship.

  3. Georgie-ann

    I’d like to rewind back to Thanksgiving, and start from there, by taking it back from non-stop football/TV/commercials, and restoring it to the quieter homey family togetherness day it used to be, for some even including church. I think many women were just as happy to get away from the boring living room zombied-out scene, and find something else (at least somewhat productive) to do on Thanksgiving, as the day had already been co-opted long ago.

    Heck, as long as we’re dreaming, I’d like to throw out the TV set too!

  4. I feel your pain, Georgie-ann. I spoke to somebody the other day who said that on Thanksgiving day, the people whose home they ate at said nothing about being thankful. It was just another excuse to gorge themselves on turkey and all the trimmings.

    • Georgie-ann

      That’s what it has become for so many, another empty and co-opted holiday, serving other natural-man purposes than what it was intended for. I assiduously avoid the football households — (“been there, done that” — and it profited little from what I could tell, or feel).

      Here’s my take on your Advent suggestions:

      Good things “to do” all. But are we needing to look for more projects “to be doing?”

      I see, and now experience, Advent as a very special time to empty ourselves of a lot of accumulated “life debris and excess” — excess plans, excess confusion, excess noise, excess appointments, excess demands, and on and on,…

      Part Two of this, is then to “allow God to guide us”,…to listen for His plan for each one of us personally, and then purpose in our hearts to follow that. So often we still want the satisfaction of accomplishing “Great Big Things for God” — “Look, God! This is how much I/we love you!” But we can become so busy and involved in sacrificing one thing in order to do another, that it becomes more human effort than Divine experience. We end up finding “that we don’t have enough time left” to remember to do that one small thing for our isolated neighbor that would have really touched them, or to take some sweet personal moments with our beloveds and reconnect personal and family bonds. We’re too busy climbing that next mountain, as if it won’t wait for us to do tomorrow, or next month.

      Stop, Look around/debrief, and then Listen,…when you hear God’s “still, small voice” prompting you in your heart,…do that! Tell someone you’re sorry,…tell someone you love them so much,…tell someone how proud you are of them,…how much you’ve missed them,…call someone,…kiss someone,…look someone in the eye, smile & and have a great big Christmas hug,…forgive someone,…or lots of someones,…remember good stuff,…and funny stuff,…make a comfort food meal,…and eat it,…and share it,…enjoy your dessert!,…make sure you’re doing the really personal things that God puts into your heart, and you’ll still have time for some of the “other good stuff” that you’ll have waiting for you on your lovely Advent & Christmas “to do and promise” lists,…and if it doesn’t all get done, don’t worry about it! Gentle traditional religious Christmas music makes nice background noise now & then, too!

      That said, I love and appreciate “you guys” and your blogs!,…you’re all “very special,”…(and we all know that that can mean a lot of things!),…I’m glad you tolerate me and my “say so” style!,…I’m not trying to save the world or even grind an ax,…just sayin’ what I’ve got to say, and I appreciate the opportunities that you’ve permitted me to do so,…

      Empty ourselves and our busy lives,…wait on God for the next step,…I hope we all hear His Voice in “a very special way” this Advent!

      God Bless You & Thank you!

      Best Advent wishes to all!

  5. Georgie-ann, thanks for your comments. I agree with you about substituting one activity for another. Part of what we need to do is slow down. Actually, giving people our presence slows us down naturally. Then we–I!–need to prayerfully consider how I will invest my time and energies.

    We love and appreciate you, too. You’re our champion comment contributor.

    God bless!

    • Georgie-ann

      Thanks!,…I don’t always know if that’s good or bad & apologize to those I bore,…but — hey! — we’re all different! (-:

      I always find these words a little unsettling:

      Matthew 7:23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, … ‘ ”

      Combining Jesus’s words, “I never knew you,” with the First Commandment, to love God with all of our heart, I take “getting to know God and His will very seriously.” And Advent is a perfect season to remind ourselves to make room in our lives and hearts to pay attention and to listen to Him personally.

  6. Georgie-ann

    another strategy: Worship God during Advent and Christmas, and shop the sales after Christmas,…I’ve done that, too,…works out pretty well,…

    • Georgie-ann

      Absolutely!

      Many of the Spanish families I know, who have several nights traditionally established of getting together for worship, music, food treats and fun during the Advent/Christmas season, wait for their gift-giving until the “Feast of the Epiphany” — our Three Kings moment — or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. It seems to be an effective way to maximize and spread out exposure to all the possibilities of the season, without such an intense rush and over-crowding of everything into one huge triple-duty day, that not only comes and goes too fast, but often leaves the little children crashed out, crying and exhausted by noon,…

      Lots of traditional things, I find, make a lot of sense. It’s great when lots of folks are agreeing on, cooperating to bring about, and participating in a shared endeavor that is both heart-warming and serving a godly purpose at the same time. Widening the time bracket in which to both keep God’s story in mind and share the joy and fellowship of the season with the brothers and sisters in Christ, can be a very pleasant and even more relaxing option.

      One more traditional focus of the Advent season, is considering the time special, as it also carries the message of the precious time of Mary, conceiving and carrying the Son of God in her womb, and Joseph’s tender and faithful guardianship and protection. We can naturally imagine a “tested” human side of this story, but the greater over-riding testimony of their willing and faithful service to God, and His faithfulness also to them, and the miraculousness of the event, carries a very deep significance for all of us.

      Are we willing to faithfully hold, value and carry God’s Light in such a way that it is both sincerely and steadily honored and protected, and through us can be reflected out, with the goal of salvation, to the “lost and dying” world?

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