The Gift of Presence

There was always a lead up to the fateful Christmas morning that gave small glimpses of how great the day would be. There were be small piles of gifts that grew every day, and I remember the excitement and palpable anticipation as we prepared for Santa’s arrival. When Santa came, he brought with him gifts that were unwrapped. These gifts were larger and more expensive, and meant to be immediately played with. They would be sitting there when we woke, as early as possible, and rushed into the living room to enjoy Santa’s blessings — things like a bike, a He-man castle or a G.I. Joe aircraft carrier.
I also recall with great fondness the spirit of childlike joy as we rushed into opening all of the presents at once. And when I say at once, I mean at once. I don’t recall there ever seeming to be an order or any rhyme or reason to our frantic foray into the wrapped toys. All I know was that afterwards there were mounds of colorful wrapping paper and tissue strewn all around the room, presents stacked on each other and two very happy children asking for help to build this or play with that.

The power of a gift
As a child, our family didn’t talk much about religious things or Jesus, but we all knew and appreciated the power of a gift. Both of my parents had grown up in poorer families, marked by loss and divorce. As a result, they used Christmas as an opportunity to show that they loved me and my sister. For my parents, Christmas was about providing love in tangible things, and as a result, the early years of my life were filled with an overwhelming amount of gifts.

Showing love in tangible ways
Christmas mornings are in many ways very different for my family today, and yet in the most important way they are exactly the same. Christmas is a season that calls us to show love in tangible ways. While wrapped differently, there is still an overwhelming presence of love and now the gifts are ones of presence. It is the very act of our family coming together that is valued as the most important part of our Christmas celebration. There are a lot fewer presents, but everything has more meaning.

The greatest gift
For Christians, we know that the greatest gift that this world has ever received is the very gift of Jesus. It was this gift — His entering into our very fallen and broken world — that represents the best and most precious gift of all. God loved us. God loved each and every one of us to a greater degree than we could ever truly imagine. As a result, He wrapped His gift delicately in the form of a baby and presented it to us in a manger. His gift to us was His very presence.

The gift of you
Just as Jesus came into this world to serve and love, Christmas is a time to reflect on our commitment to care for those all around us, to love as we have been loved. While we all will struggle with the growing hustle and bustle which slowly begins to take over the days and weeks of December, there are those who will be truly fighting for survival. There will be silent cries from the mother who cannot afford to provide food, much less gifts, for her children and empty homes filled with hurting people. There are elderly, and infants, with no true family to celebrate with and the homeless just hoping for a meal.
As the day approaches that marks His coming into the world, I pray that you will consider stepping into the world of someone in need. There is a gift, the gift of your presence, which will make all the difference in the life of someone that God loves dearly. In partnership with your church and local ministries, find a way to be the very hands and feet of Jesus. There are small tangible ways that each of us can make a difference. This Christmas, you can make it more meaningful by giving to others a gift that is more valuable than any other you can buy: the gift of you.

Robin Martin is executive director of HOPE South Florida, a nonprofit organization serving homeless and hurting individuals and families through partnerships with churches and community services. He can be reached at [email protected]

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