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Give the gift of love
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Rev. Dr. Devin Strong

Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church

I am at the age where I don’t need gifts for Christmas anymore. For starters, I am a guy, and men are historically tough to buy for. We never know what we want! I have also accumulated enough resources that I can afford to buy all the socks and sweaters that I need during the year, so I don’t need any presents this year, truly.

I still love to give them, of course. It is especially fun to see someone’s eyes light up when they open a special gift that they were not expecting. But even the gift-giving will be rather mundane around our house this year. Our kids are grown, and we don’t have any grandchildren yet, so there are no little ones to watch squealing with delight as they tear into the boxes. It sounds like a cliché, but our gift this year will be getting to spend some time with our adult kids and their significant others. My dad used to say that he wanted experiences more than stuff, and I get it now. For me, too, Christmas is much more about presence than presents. My wife Chris recently reminded me about the best, most memorable gifts that we ever gave at Christmas. It was decades ago when our kids were small. The days were long then, and money was short. We just couldn’t afford to buy things for all of our extended family members and then pay to have those gifts shipped around the country to the far-flung places where people lived.

We got the idea of sending each relative a picture of our young family along with a personalized, detailed letter about what we love and respect about each of them. We printed them on nice paper, framed them, and sent them off. That’s it—no store-bought gadgets or stylish clothes for anyone, not even homemade Christmas sweets, just letters from the heart. Still, we invested considerable time in writing them—perhaps a dozen in all—and the process was delightful. It was rich and satisfying to relive what each friend and family member meant to us over the years. With that, our Christmas shopping was done, and it didn’t break the bank!

Of course, we didn’t know what the response would be. We worried that we had done too little for people who so generously bought things for us, things that we surely needed at that point in our lives. So we waited, waited for phone calls from family members, since we could also not afford to get together with most of our loved ones that year. People were more appreciative and touched than we ever imagined! On a recent visit to see my mom, I realized that she still has our Christmas Letter on her dresser more than 20 years later. I will also never forget my dad who waited more than two days to call. When he finally phoned, he apologized for the delay in thanking us for our gift, “but” he said, “I had to stop crying first.”

Certainly, Jesus’ gift to us at Christmas is all about a relationship. The Wise Men brought him presents, but the Lord gives us presence. The Lord of Creation willingly, joyfully leaves the comforts of Heaven to come be with us and share our messy, stable-filled lives. Whatever you do this Christmas, whatever you buy, I invite you to cherish the relationships in your lives.

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