Perhaps you have heard before this interplay between the words “Presents” and “Presence”. I think it is especially pertinent and potentially helpful to us during this frenzied time of the year we call Christmas. In this week’s blog, let’s look at these two words together and separately. My hope is to encourage you and myself to a sense of wonder and joy in this Christmas holiday.
First, let’s look at these words separately. We will begin with “Presents”. This, of course, seems to be a key focus for many of us, believers in Jesus and unbelievers alike. We have our shopping lists. We ask friends and family what they “would like” for a present on Christmas day. Now, I realize many tie the giving of gifts at Christmas time back to the Magi in Matthew 2:1-11 who gave treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. Yes! This is what they did. Now I will not go off on a diatribe here, but I have always been curious, even as a child, if Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, why do we use the occasion to give each other gifts? After all, if we tie the giving of presents to the Magi, shouldn’t we be giving gifts to Jesus like they did? After all, it is His “birthday” they were celebrating. The last time I checked, when it was my wife’s birthday, I did not hand her a gift-list of things I wanted. No! I found out from her how I could bless her with a gift. But I digress a bit! Then, we have this idea of Presence. What does Presence have to do with Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth? Well, just about everything. We read in John 1:1-14 that the Word Who created the entire world, the Word who was with God and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us. He, as one paraphrase put it, “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message). Immanuel. God with us (Matt.1:23). I think you can see where I might be going with some of this! On one hand, I still don’t quite “get” why we “get” at Christmas time. In terms of Presents. But I most assuredly get why we get the Gift of Presence. Now, please don’t misunderstand. I don’t think it’s wrong to give each other gifts on Jesus’ birthday. It just feels odd to me. I am grateful for any gift I receive, but all of this leads me to wonder, “do I ever long for presents more than I do Presence? Oh, I hope not. If I do, if we do, we have missed the whole meaning of Christmas. He most beautiful meaning of Christmas, is that Jesus, the en-fleshed Presence of God, moved into our neighborhood, that we might receive the gifts of grace and truth that come from Him. Of course, this leads me to say, the best Present we can receive this Christmas time and, more importantly, during any time, is the Gift of Presence. Jesus doesn’t want to be just a sentimental religious idea that we celebrate during the holidays, or even on Sundays. No, He is MUCH MORE than that. Yes, experience Him and long for Him during the holy days, during Sundays and such, but realize He is meant to be Presence every day of our lives. How can you experience Him as Presence and by doing so, know Him as the Greatest Present? Just a few thoughts here and then I’m done.
First, ask God for the grace to believe that if you have been “bad”, been naughty, that unlike Santa, Jesus is not resigned to give you a lump of coal. We think Jesus and His Presence is only for the “good” religious people who “deserve” such gifts. Such thinking is so wrong. Jesus came, not for the healthy, but for the sick (Mark 2:17). Of course, we don’t want to be “sick” but we are. We are in desperate need of a Savior. Don’t be afraid of admitting that. Then, receive His forgiveness and acceptance as you repent (turn from your sin and turn to God) and believe in God’s gift of love (John 3:16). Second, to experience Him as the Greatest Present, after you receive Him and believe in Him, live out the implications of the Gospel to those around you who very much need the Gift of His Presence. What I suggest here is to take to hear Scripture such as I John 4:7-12. As I read this passage, I am reminded to love as Jesus loved us, which in a word is sacrificially. Give yourself to others. You will need God and His Presence to do this. We rarely love beyond the point of pain like our Savior does. But, when we do, empowered by Him, others begin to experience what they have not seen. “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” – I John 4:11-12. (emphasis mine). Presence. Brother, sister, friend, as Christmas approaches, may we all long for, pray for, and by the grace and truth that come from His moving into the neighborhood, experience the Presents of His Presence.