A missionary friend of mine recently sent to me his quarterly newsletter and in it told a story of Christmas past. It was a childhood event that has been etched into his memory not as a wonderful occasion but a painful one. As a young teenager he had saved his hard earned dollars to purchase a radio for his parents. This was in the early 1950’s and $25 was a huge amount in that day, especially for a rural kid to have on hand. He anticipated the wonderful surprise he had in store for his parents with joyous glee.
“This gift did not feel like a sacrifice, nor did I wrestle with whether it was going to cost too much. My only thought seemed to be anticipating the delight I expected to see when my parents received it.”
On Christmas morning after family prayers and a small meal together the time came for gifts to be opened. But, instead of the amazing reception he had anticipated as his parents unwrapped their gift, he was met with these harsh and critical words…
“You should not have spent that much money on a gift for us.”
My friend was crushed. Now, nearly 60 years later this is one of the most striking memories he has of Christmas. He further reflects:
“As I have considered that over the years, I realize the pain came because I had taken great joy in giving of myself to find and give a somewhat extravagant gift only to find that it was received with a less than joyful response. A gift given in joy is supposed to be received with joy. ‘You should not have done that’ was not a response of joy; it felt pragmatic, couched in earthly concerns over the perceived frivolity of extravagance.”
In closing his newsletter this wise older brother concludes:
“The gift of Jesus is true extravagance, very costly for the Father. He takes great joy in giving us the gift of his Son. So Christmas reminds me to truly receive it with nothing less than the wild and extravagant joy in which it was given! I do not want to hurt the Giver by receiving it with anything less, for I know a tiny bit of what that pain is like.”
Of course, the question for each of us is how truly wild and extravagant is our joy over the gift of Jesus … our eternal Father’s gift of eternal life?
Conflict in the church, the living body of Christ given to us, is one way we reject the Father’s extravagant gift. It is an expression that we haven’t really grasped the unimaginable cost born by the giver. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves but, too frequently we forget what our response should be and fall into fights among ourselves over those pragmatic, earthly concerns that deny the extravagance of the gift.
A new year is coming and that means we have new opportunities to live as our Father has called us to live … making every effort to live at peace with our eternal siblings in the church in a manner that truly demonstrates the joyful response worthy of the Father’s joyful gift.
A very blessed Christmas to you all with best wishes for a year of peace in the church—
– Dave Edling