It is two months until Christmas. For sometime we have been made aware of the upcoming holiday in stores and all medias. I do not believe that this ballyhoo indicates that we are being reminded of the celebration of the birth of Christ. It is to let us know of the items that are available for us to present to our loved ones as Christmas gifts.
Gifts help make the world go round. We spend a tremendous amount of time and money shopping, buying, wrapping and delivering our gifts. This is especially true when the gift is for a loved one for holidays, graduation, births, marriage and to express gratefulness. Also, they are given for such things as to gain attention, erase guilt, tradition and sales promotion.
In my young life, I lived in small towns where selections of gift items were very limited, but I enjoyed shopping to find something appropriate for the family that I could afford. In my working career, I lived in cities so I spent even more time shopping and could afford better gifts.
The first gift I remember receiving was a cowboy suit for Christmas. The first present I remember giving was to my mother. It was Mother’s Day and she and I were visiting a great aunt and uncle in Hominy ten miles from our home in Wynona, Oklahoma for the weekend. Early that morning I excitedly woke her up and presented my gift of a nickel handkerchief and a nickel Hershey bar. That really awakened her and I don’t believe I ever saw her look so pleased and full of joy. I was a happy giver.
There is a game that my family always plays on Christmas Day. It was handed down through my Grandmother Otwell’s family. We get up early and quietly slip around so that we can be the first to greet the others with the words “Christmas Gift”.
It took me some time to realize the significance of this greeting. We were starting our day remembering the anniversary of the day that our Lord gave us the gift of his son, our savior.
After Jean and I were married and moved to Denver, we often picked up my parents in Oklahoma and took them with us to my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Irving, Texas for Christmas. We would also visit Jean‘s dad and stepmother in Fort Worth. On Christmas Eve, it became a tradition for Jean’s parents to come to my sister’s for a meal and celebration. At first, it was a little awkward since the two sets of grandparents did not know each other very well.
Things changed when we started an adult gift exchange on Christmas Eve after the children were in bed. The gifts were ones that we had gathered all year. They were somewhat tacky and often slightly off-color. The sounds of the belly laughs and hilarity filled the whole neighborhood. The funniest ones were given to the granddads, which often made them blush. This exchange became the highlight of the season for all of us involved.
Sometimes we forget the greatest gift we ever received. It was the gift of life and talents given to us by God. Our parents were the vessel through which the gift was delivered. Another great gift given to us by God was the gift of His son, Jesus Christ who gave his life for us.
The bible tells of gifts brought to the manger in Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus soon after His birth. These gifts were brought by three men from the East who followed the bright star. These men were referred to as magi and wisemen but mostly we refer to them as the three kings from the Orient who rode their camels on the long trip.
This leads me to a story I enjoy telling that started on a trip to Asia. After completing a two -week tour of Indonesia, we flew to Yogyakarta on the island of Java, which is a part of Indonesia. We wanted to see two ancient temples that we had read about. One was the Borabudur Buddhist Temple built in the ninth century and the Pranbana Hindu Temple erected in the tenth century. I do not have words to describe the magnificence of these structures. Each of them had been severely damaged by earthquakes but were being restored rather slowly. A tremendous number of large stones were stacked around the area and numbered so that they could be placed in the correct positions in time.
From our hotel room, we had a wonderful view of Merapi Volcano. Smoke was continually rising from the crater high into the sky. Occasionally there are world news reports of severe damaging eruptions from this volcano.
We had a wonderful, knowledgeable young man as our guide. He had given up his vocation as a teacher to become a tourist guide because of economics.
He showed us some batik pillowcases that his wife had painted and we purchased a couple of them because they were beautiful and interesting.
As we stood in line to get our boarding passes at the airport for our trip home, he told us that his wife could make batik Christmas cards and mail them to us. Hand painted cloth Christmas cards would be unique and terrific. We asked for twenty-five cards and gave him forty US dollars.
He asked me what I wanted shown on the cards. I told him that a manger scene would be great. He gave me a puzzled look and said that he had a Christian friend who might possibly help him. I had forgotten that I was in a Muslim country and that these people knew nothing about Christmas symbols. We were next in line to receive our boarding passes so I had to think quickly. Then I told him to have the cards to show three kings on their camels following the bright star. He seemed to understand what I wanted. We said our goodbyes and went on our way.
Christmas was getting close and we had not received the cards so we purchased new cards and started mailing them. The package from Indonesia finally arrived and we were delighted that we would be able to send these unique cards and impress friends and family.
What a shocker when we saw the batik cards. They were very pretty and were original painted cards but the scene on them had nothing to do with our view of the three king bearing gifts. All of them depicted three men riding on the same camel. There were stars in the sky. Each card showed three or more stars in the sky. We sent the cards with an explanation. They certainly were the most novel card the recipients ever received and not easily forgotten.
I showed one of the cards to our minister and he laughed and described it as a picture of a camel pool. Guess he thought they were on their way to work.
This was a lesson to me of how little the people of the world know of other people’s religions. Other religions surely have their view of gifts but it does not include the gifts given by the three kings to baby Jesus.
Mohandas Gandhi, the much-respected Hindu leader is reported to say “The greatest gift a person can give or receive is the gift of friendship”. I agree with him of the importance of friendship but that gift certainly is subordinate to God’s gifts of life and that of forgiveness through his son, Jesus.