We've all been there: that awkward, one-sided gift exchange with a friend who didn't make the cut on your Christmas gift-giving list. There you are standing with their gift in your hands and an expression on your face best described as part embarrassment, part gratefulness.
Should you run out and try to reciprocate? Do you lie and say their gift is forthcoming and that you merely left it at your home? Do you sheepishly admit you didn't get them anything?
Or, do you simply say, "Thank you"?
As the recipient of a gift from a person to whom I didn't give a gift, I can say there is a certain impulse toward guilt as if the missing gift somehow signifies my indifference toward our relationship. Any gift giver with a penchant for true generosity will tell you this isn't the case: they give because they love you, not because they hope for something in return.
A large part of the story of Christ's birth involves gift giving. Aside from the larger theme of God sending his son, Jesus Christ, as a gift and ransom for humanity, there are the wise men who brought with them three gifts to the young Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We don't know how many wise men there were, although we might assume each gift represented a wise man. After all, who shows up to the birth of the Savior of the world without a gift?
What if there was a fourth wise man - one who simply forgot to bring a gift? There he stood, empty handed as his colleagues laid before the King of Kings the finest gifts they could find. Maybe he stood, fidgeting in the corner as the eyes in the room turned to him. Maybe he would shrug and nervously toe the dirt floor. Maybe the others would try to console him.
All of this is wild speculation, of course, but I find myself often approaching my Heavenly Father with that attitude. There are people who are smarter and infinitely more talented than I. They offer my God a laundry list of abilities, whereas I often approach the throne of God feeling empty handed. What can I give the One who gave everything to me?
Then again, there is no one who can truly match the gift that God gave us on that holy night.
God has given us such a perfect gift in Jesus Christ, and that fact is never so evident as that when we read John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (John 3:16, NIV, emphasis mine). Since there is no way we can give God something of equal value, perhaps our attitudes should be one of constant gratitude, not just during the holidays but year round.
It's completely appropriate to stand in awe of this most precious gift and simply say "Thank you."
Email Jamie H. Wilson at email@example.com.