Christmas is fast approaching, and that means it’s time for gift exchanges! It can be fun to give and receive gifts with friends and family to celebrate the season, but sometimes we run into the problem of reciprocation. How much should I spend on this person? How much will they spend on me? What does this gift say about the relationship we have? We want to look beyond the price tag and find the real meaning of a gift.
Thinking about Christmas gifts brings to mind a Christmas special on The Big Bang Theory, one of my favorite shows (I’m a physics student; it’s only logical!). In “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis”, Sheldon, the socially awkward genius, finds out that his neighbour, Penny, bought him a Christmas gift. This irritates him because he now feels obliged to buy her something of the same value based on the “perceived level of friendship”. Sheldon goes out shopping and buys a bunch of bath item gift baskets, each worth a different amount. He plans to estimate the cost of whatever he receives, and then give Penny the basket of the same value, which solves the “Penny gift dilemma”.
Obviously, Sheldon’s response is a bit excessive. But I think that many of us also approach Christmas with that same sense of obligation. Our gift exchanges can become routine or inconvenient, something we have to do if we want to measure up and be successful. For some of us, gifts are a quantitative assessment of acceptance and self-worth with our family and friends.
At the end of the episode, Penny reveals her gift. It’s just a restaurant napkin, but it’s signed – and used – by Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock himself. This gift is is far beyond anything Sheldon had imagined, not in price, but in its significance.
In response to Penny’s gift, Sheldon brings out all of the gift baskets he bought and piles them in front of Penny. After all of that, he still cries, “It’s not enough, is it?!” And then he offers her something we never thought he could: a hug! This time, his gift-giving – as it were – is out of gratitude and endearment, instead of obligation. He truly cherishes the gift he has been given and can’t help but give something back.
In a similar way, I respond to the amazing gift God gave us at Christmas. God sent his son, Jesus, as a baby, to Earth to bring God’s love to the world. Jesus was the sacrifice God willingly, lovingly made in order to offer us eternal life and a relationship with him, starting from the moment we accept the gift of Christ into our lives (John 3:16). Jesus is a gift of infinite value, and a display of God’s love for each and every one of us (1 John 4:9,10). I can’t help but offer him my heart and my life in return for his amazing gift as an expression of love and thankfulness for who he is and what he’s done for me, and for all of us. I am convinced that the meaning of gift-giving at Christmas is to reflect the loving character of God exemplified in God’s gift of Jesus to us.
How do you respond to an incredible gift? What is your reaction to God’s Christmas gift to you? Leave your comments below – I would love to hear from you!