A young married couple had more love than money. As Christmas neared, both struggled to find a gift that would show how much they cared for the other. Finally, on Christmas Eve, Della sold her long, knee-length hair to buy Jim a platinum chain for the watch he’d inherited from his father and grandfather. Jim, however, had just sold the watch to buy a set of expensive combs for Della’s hair.
Author O. Henry called the couple’s story The Gift of the Magi. His creation suggests that even though their gifts became useless and may have caused them to look foolish on Christmas morning, their love made them among the wisest of those who give gifts.
The wise men of the first Christmas story also could have looked foolish to some as they arrived in Bethlehem with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11). They weren’t Jewish. They were outsiders, Gentiles, who didn’t realize how much they would disturb the peace of Jerusalem by asking about a newly born king of the Jews (Matt. 2:2).
As with Jim and Della’s experience, the Magi’s plans didn’t turn out the way they expected. But they gave what money cannot buy. They came with gifts, but then bowed to worship One who would ultimately make the greatest of all loving sacrifices for them—and for us.
London’s Café Rendezvous has nice lighting, comfortable couches, and the smell of coffee in the air. What it doesn’t have are prices. Originally started as a business by a local church, the café was transformed a year after it started. The managers felt that God was calling them to do something radical—make everything on the menu free. Today you can order a coffee, cake, or sandwich without cost. There isn’t even a donation jar. It’s all a gift.
I asked the manager why they were so generous. “We’re just trying to treat people the way God treats us,” he said. “God gives to us whether we thank him or not. He’s generous to us beyond our imaginations.”
Jesus died to rescue us from our sins and reconcile us with God (Eph. 2:1–3). He rose from the grave and is alive now. Because of this, every wrong thing we’ve done can be forgiven, and we can have new life today (vv. 4–5). And one of the most amazing things about this is that it is all free. We can’t buy the new life Jesus offers. We can’t even donate toward the cost (vv. 8–9). It’s all a gift.
As the folks at Café Rendezvous serve their cakes and coffees, they give people a glimpse of God’s generosity. You and I are offered eternal life for free because Jesus has paid the bill.
In October 1915, during World War I, Oswald Chambers arrived at Zeitoun Camp, a military training center near Cairo, Egypt, to serve as a YMCA chaplain to British Commonwealth soldiers. When he announced a weeknight religious service, 400 men packed the large YMCA hut to hear Chambers’ talk titled, “What Is the Good of Prayer?” Later, when he spoke individually with men who were trying to find God in the midst of war, Oswald often quoted Luke 11:13, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
The free gift of God through His Son, Jesus, is forgiveness, hope, and His living presence in our lives through the Holy Spirit. “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (v. 10).
On November 15, 1917, Oswald Chambers died unexpectedly from a ruptured appendix. To honor him, a soldier led to faith in Christ by Oswald purchased a marble carving of a Bible with the message of Luke 11:13 on its open page and placed it beside his grave: “How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
This amazing gift from God is available to each of us today.
My birthday is the day after my mother’s. As an adolescent, I would scramble to think of a gift that delighted my mom yet fit in my budget. She always received my purchases with appreciation, and on the following day, my birthday, she would present her gift to me. Without fail, her gift vastly outshone mine. Her intention wasn’t to diminish what I’d given her; she simply gave generously from her resources, which far exceeded my own.
My desire to give to my mother reminds me of David’s wish to build a home for God. Struck by the contrast between his palace and the tent where God revealed Himself, David longed to build God a temple. Instead of granting David’s wish to give, God responded by giving David an exceedingly better gift. God promised that not only would one of David’s children (Solomon) build the temple (1 Chron. 17:11), but that He would build David a house, a dynasty. That promise began with Solomon but found its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus, whose throne was indeed “established forever” (v. 12). David wanted to give from his finite resources, but God promised something infinite.
Like David, may we always be moved to give to God out of gratitude and love. And may we always see how much more abundantly He has given to us in Jesus.
In Australia, it can take hours to drive between towns and fatigue can lead to accidents. So at busy holiday times rest stops are set up on major highways with volunteers offering free coffee. My wife, Merryn, and I grew to enjoy these stops during our long drives there.
On one trip, we pulled in and walked over to order our coffee. An attendant handed the two cups over, and then asked me for two dollars. I asked why. She pointed to the small print on the sign—at this stop, only the driver got free coffee; you had to pay for passengers. Annoyed, I told her this was false advertising, paid the two dollars, and walked off. Back at the car, Merryn pointed out my error: I had turned a gift into an entitlement and become ungrateful for what I received. She was right.
When Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land, he urged them to be a grateful people (Deut. 8:10). Thanks to the blessings of God, the land was abundant; but they could easily treat this prosperity as something they deserved (vv. 17–18). From this, the Jews developed a practice of giving thanks for every meal, no matter how small. For them, it was all a gift.
I went back to the woman and apologized. A free cup of coffee was a gift I didn’t deserve—and something for which to be thankful.
My friend Gloria called with excitement in her voice. She had not been able to leave her home except for doctors’ appointments. So I understood why she was so happy to tell me, “My son just attached new speakers to my computer, so now I can go to my church!” Now she could hear the live broadcast of her church’s worship service. She raved about God’s goodness and the “best gift my son could have given me!”
Gloria teaches me about having a thankful heart. Despite her many limitations, she’s thankful for the smallest of things—sunsets, helpful family and neighbors, quiet moments with God, the ability to remain in her own apartment. She’s had a lifetime of seeing God provide for her, and she talks about Him to anyone who visits or calls.
We don’t know what difficulties the author of Psalm 116 was encountering. Some Bible commentaries say it was probably sickness because he said, “the cords of death entangled me” (v. 3). But he gave thanks to the Lord for being gracious and full of compassion when he was “brought low” (vv. 5–6).
When we’re low, it can be hard to look up. Yet if we do, we see that God is the giver of all good gifts in our life—great and small—and we learn to give Him thanks.
While on vacation recently, I gave my razor a rest and grew a beard. Various responses came from friends and co-workers—and most were complimentary. One day, however, I looked at the beard and decided, “It’s not me.” So out came the razor.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of who we are and why one thing or another does not fit our personality. Primarily, it’s because God has bestowed us with individual differences and preferences. It’s okay that we don’t all like the same hobbies, eat the same foods, or worship in the same church. We are each uniquely and “wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Peter noted that we are uniquely gifted in order to serve each other (1 Peter 4:10–11).
Jesus’s disciples didn’t check their characteristics at the door before entering His world. Peter was so impulsive that he cut off a servant’s ear the night Jesus was arrested. Thomas insisted on evidence before believing Christ had risen. The Lord didn’t reject them simply because they had some growing to do. He molded and shaped them for His service.
When discerning how we might best serve the Lord, it’s wise to consider our talents and characteristics and to sometimes say, “It’s not me.” God may call us out of our comfort zone, but He does so to develop our unique gifts and personalities to serve His good purposes. We honor His creative nature when we permit Him to use us as we are.
When I first made the acquaintance of a new friend from abroad, I noticed his posh English accent and that he wore a ring on his little finger. Later I learned that this wasn’t just jewelry; it revealed his family’s history through the family crest engraved on it.
It was a bit like a signet ring—perhaps like the one in Haggai. In this short Old Testament book, the prophet Haggai calls for the people of God to restart the rebuilding of the temple. They had been exiled and had now returned to their homeland and begun rebuilding, but enemy opposition to their project had stalled them. Haggai’s message includes God’s promise to Zerubbabel, Judah’s leader, that he had been chosen and set apart as their leader, like a signet ring.
In ancient times, a signet ring was used as a means of identification. Instead of signing their name, people would press their ring into hot wax or soft clay to make their mark. As God’s children, we too make a mark on the world as we spread the gospel, share His grace through loving our neighbors, and work to end oppression.
Each of us has our own unique stamp that reveals how we’re created in God’s image and expresses our particular mix of gifts, passions, and wisdom. It’s our call and privilege to act as this signet ring in God’s world.
One year, those responsible for decorating their church for Christmas decided to use the theme of “Christmas lists.” Instead of decorating with the usual shiny gold and silver ornaments, they gave each person a red or green tag. On one side they were to write down the gift they would like from Jesus, and on the other they were to list the gift they would give to the One whose birth they were celebrating.
If you were to do this, what gift would you ask for and what would you offer? The Bible gives us lots of ideas. God promises to supply all our needs, so we might ask for a new job, help with financial problems, physical healing for ourselves or others, or a restored relationship. We might be wondering what our spiritual gift is that equips us for God’s service. Many of these are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Or we might long to show more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal. 5:22-23).
The most important gift we can ever receive is God’s gift of His Son, our Savior, and with Him forgiveness, restoration, and the promise of spiritual life that begins now and lasts forever. And the most important gift we can ever give is to give Jesus our heart.