(The story was once told by a friend of mine. I’ll impart it here as well as I know how).
ON a chilly December night, a man nestles with his wife in front of a fire. Once the monotonous chatter of every day life has been exhausted, a refreshing silence falls upon the room.
Staring together into the crackling flames, he speaks once more, asking her if there’s anything she would like to receive for Christmas.
Indeed, there is something she has been desiring, and for the longest time. She wants it so bad, she replies with the breathless jubilation of a child. By the radiant smile illuminating her face and the excitement sounding in her voice, she makes it abundantly known that if she were to receive this as a gift on Christmas morning, she would treasure it for the rest of her life.
It’s something very specific, something very precious to her. It’s very expensive, though something that can be found in any store on earth; in a multiplicity of sizes, textures and colors.
The following morning, he goes shopping in search for the gift, whereupon he sees it prominently showcased from a snowy store window. With a great joy, he jangles the bells bursting the shop door open and hastens to get a closer look. This is exactly what she wants – and he knows it! He can’t wait to buy it and have it gift wrapped and experience the joy of his wife as she opens it on Christmas.
It is then, just as he goes to lift it from the shelf, that something else catches his eye.
It’s far more extravagant and exquisite than that of what she pleaded for. As soon as he sees it, he is blown away by its display. He’s so impressed by it, he can no longer even bring himself to look at the other. There is no doubt in his mind that if she were to receive it, she would love it even more than what she had asked for. For, what fun is there in receiving a gift when you know exactly what it will be? Why even place it underneath the tree? Why even bother in wrapping it? Why not surprise her with something that’s even better than she ever could have imagined and utterly astound her with happiness? Besides, you can always go back and get the other for her birthday in eight month’s time.
It’s settled. He leaves the former sitting on the shelf in front of the picture window and purchases the latter.
* * *
It’s Christmas Day.
The impeccably wrapped box with festive paper and lipstick colored bows has graced the bottom of the tree for over two weeks now. The wife’s anticipation has increased by the day. She is now delirious in her elation, feeling as if she is a ten year old girl on Christmas again. She can’t wait to tear into it and finally clutch the treasure she had waited so long for.
Her husband is filled with nearly as much excitement as she, as he is sure she will love the gift and be so overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness that she will be moved to tears.
With a gorgeous, beaming smile, she takes a deep breath and unwraps her gift. Paper and ribbons fly all over the room, from the front of her to the back of her. The smile widens on her blushing face as she cuts the tape. She collects one final deep breath before opening the box to reveal what’s awaiting her inside.
Clumsily fumbling for his phone, he begins recording a video to capture her ecstatic response.
The top of the package flies over her head and she catches her first glimpse at it. He zooms in closer, his smirk augmenting along with his accelerating heartbeat, knowing this was the moment she would surely shout with delight and then hang her head and weep in happiness.
To his bewilderment, his wife has fallen completely silent.
Her glowing smile, just an instant ago, so infantile and vivid, has contorted into an expression of utter disappointment and sorrow. She sits before it frozen, noticing it is not at all what she had hoped for or had wanted.
After a painful moment of silence that seemed far longer than it was, he finally hears her voice.
“………Oh…………” she mutters.
She’s so saddened, she can’t even pretend to like it. She just looks at it, until she can no more, peering misty-eyed into the distance at the window sill.
He stops the video recording on his phone and immediately deletes it, searching for the words to say.
“You are a good wife!” he manages at last, hoping to lift her spirits. “I found what you had asked for. …But there was something that was…fancier. And I wanted you to have something even better! …Because you deserve the absolute best.”
At a loss for words, she stares once more at the gift with a blank expression on her face.
* * *
The fact is, it wasn’t more. It was less.
Suppose we asked God, “What gift may we bring You?”
Indeed, there are gifts He seeks. He desires them so much, He is beaming – “I desire something very specific, something very precious to Me. It’s very expensive, but the price has long ago been paid. It can be found in every city of every nation on earth; in a multiplicity of sizes, textures and colors.”
He desires an eternal nearness with the humanity He created. He desires relationship rather than religiosity, servitude and not selfishness; disciples and not numbers on an attendance chart; mercy and not sacrifice.
He longs to see us baptized into His death and clothed in Christ through His resurrection; our hearts clothed with the character of His Spirit – not clothed like lawyers and bureaucrats.
He longs for heavenly treasures to line His home to a teeming state, more and more as the day draws near. He yearns to witness His children feeding the starving, clothing the impoverished, visiting the incarcerated, loving the unlovable’s and forgiving the unforgivable’s.
We know exactly what He wants! It’s exciting and stirring to see. They are everywhere whenever we open our eyes.
Far too often than not, however, as we bring our gifts to His altar, it is something else that has captured our eye that we lay at His feet. Why, it is even greater than what He wished for. It’s extravagant! It’s exquisite! He is surely to be overwhelmed and impressed at our thoughtfulness!
And it is then, when we bring Him things He never asked for. Glittering gewgaws that He doesn’t even want.
Elaborate Taj-Mahal cathedrals. Luxurious chairs and padded pews. Expensive carpet to be cleaned twice a week. Repaved parking lots. Meticulous landscaping. Towering steeples. Elegant lobbies. State of the art video screens. Lavish artwork adorning the walls of our religious palaces. A modish Broadway-caliber stage. Fancy suits and chic dresses.
Paper and ribbons fly all over the room, from the front of Him to the back. We just can’t wait to see how pleased He will be by what we’ve given Him.
He just looks at it. And the vocabulary of even God Almighty has been reduced to a single word.
A huge building is nice and can be used wisely. The new and improved parking lot looks great and is marvelous on our tires. The 3-piece suit and the fancy dress look like a million dollars when we stare at ourselves in the bathroom mirror. The 15-piece orchestra and the microphones and the smoke machines and the Dolby Digital sound system is a Thanksgiving feast to our senses.
But how many impoverished people all over the earth could have eaten and drank and bathed and slept with a roof over their heads with all that money. All the people spanning the planet whose virgin ears could have heard the gospel of Christ for the very first time. How many heralds that could have been sent. How many homes that could have been built.
Imagine the unbridled, celestial joy that has been extinguished, because Jesus’ bride was really buying extravagant, exquisite gifts for themselves.
With His name on it.
* * *
It’s the dirty widow in tattered clothes dropping two mites into the treasury that caught His eye – not the one’s halfheartedly offering up enormous sums of money and rubies.
When Jesus was born, He was given costly gifts – gold, frankincense, myrrh…
It was a beautiful outpouring. But it is the spiritual gifts that neither moth nor rust can destroy and that thieves cannot break in and steal that He desires – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”
We know how to give good gifts to our children. We most certainly know how to give even greater gifts to ourselves.
How am I when it is God who I am shopping for, though? Not always so selflessly, I am ashamed to say.
Are we bringing Him those gifts that illuminate His face with radiant smiles? The ones we know that He will treasure forever?
Or are we bringing Him gift after gift for ourselves, with His name on them?