Mindy had set up the Christmas tree during the Thanksgiving weekend. Then a week or so later someone from our extended family mailed us the first wrapped Christmas present of 2008. It was for Reese. The gift went under the tree. Reese was not quite two and a half years old.
About two minutes after the present was laid at the foot of the tree, Reese asked, “Oooh. What’s that?”
“It’s a Christmas present,” I said.
“I want to open this,” she said.
“Of course you can open it…on Christmas morning. Maybe even on Christmas Eve night. In a little while. A few weeks.”
“I want to open this now.”
“No,” I said.
“You no say, ‘No,’ daddy,” she said.
“No,” I said.
And so it began. For the first time Reese was chomping at the bit to get to the “opening phase” of the holiday gift giving experience. The year before Reese had been a happy participant in the seasonal festivities. However, she had not yet become a power hungry director of the “whats” and “whens” of our family holiday traditions, especially those having to do with gifts.
But now she was more than ready to assume that role, even if it meant pushing aside those who currently held it, namely her parents.
Reese wanted to open the gift now. And that makes sense, even if – in this case, at least – it wasn’t going to happen. Gifts are meant to be opened, to be grasped, experienced, played with, and shared. Basketballs are meant to be bounced, clothes worn, and dolls hugged.
It would be flat out nuts if on Christmas morning we gave a wrapped present to Reese and said, “Oh no, don’t unwrap it. Just put it on the shelf as it is, look at it from time to time, and think, ‘Isn’t it nice someone who cares about me gave me a present.’” I mean, what would the family member who sent the present to Reese think of that use of his gift?
When I was a little older than Reese much of my life was caught up in playing with Star Wars figures and collecting football cards. I still feel odd when today as an adult I see an unopened box of football cards from the 1980s or a 30 year-old R2D2 figure still encased in the plastic tomb of its box.
What’s that about? I’m told it keeps the value up for “collectors”. Yuck and not for me. I guess I’m the type who would rather damage the long-term value of a hamburger by actually eating it, a toy by playing with it, and a gift by using it as intended by the giver.
Christians talk about spiritual gifts from time to time. There are lists of these in various places in the New Testament. Put simply, I’d say that spiritual gifts are capacities that God grants us to carry on the work and the presence of Jesus through our own lives.
These are gifts given to frail people like you and me so that we can do what Jesus did and say what Jesus said and so spread God’s love on earth even as it is in heaven.
And God doesn’t want the gifts he’s given to each of us to stay in their boxes. He wants us to open them now.
One of these gifts is the hospitality to make someone feel welcome and honored like she was the Lord himself. Another is the prophetic power to speak God’s challenging word, even to the rich and the powerful. Another is the discernment to notice where God is present and where spiritual danger may be lurking.
Another gift is the generosity to give the very best of who you are to someone without the need to get something in return. Another is the creativity to represent God’s beauty with words or music or wood or fabric or whatever. Another is the desire to work for someone else’s care and healing through your compassionate prayer and action.
The list goes on and on. There are lots of gifts. God is generous.
If you happen to be reading this and you are someone seeking to follow Jesus, then I know you have such gifts. I don’t necessarily know specifically what they are, but I know they are there. It is always exciting to see someone find out what they are.
What do you feel your spiritual gifts might be?
But it is even more exciting to see someone – me, you, anyone – start unwrapping those gifts and putting them to use. So do it. Don’t pretend circumstances will be better next week. Rip open the wrapping paper around your heart and open the box.
Thankfully, the time came for me to take the Star Wars figure out of the box and enjoy it. The time came for Reese to unwrap the mystery present under the tree and play with it.
And more awesome still, the time comes for each of us to step up, trust God, and say, “I want to follow Jesus, and so I trust God’s given me a gift to share with the world God loves. Here it is. I’m unwrapping it and starting to play with it. Let’s see what happens. And may it all be to God’s glory and my joy.”
Don’t wait until Christmas. Start opening the present now.