Do you remember the song, “The 12 days of Christmas“? You may recall the 12 sets of gifts from the narrator’s true love given during the Christmas period–taken traditionally to begin on 25th December and end on 6th January.
Since 1984, the PNC Bank, based in Pittsburgh has published a yearly estimate of what it would cost to deliver all the gift items by the 12th day. The gifts accumulate across the 12 days of Christmas, totalling 364 gifts altogether. According to the 2018 estimates, buying (or hiring) all 12 sets of gifts add up to a whopping £14,272.96. The cheapest, the partridge in a pear tree, is estimated at £24.50; and the dearest of all the gift sets, the Ten lords-a-leaping, is set at £5,000. If one were to procure all the gifts in the cumulative manner described in the song, the total figure is more than trebled, amounting to a sum of £43,070.80.
To give a true love’s gift, going by this folk song, would require one to have a seriously fat bank account. Well, thank God we don’t have to go to that length to prove our love at Christmas! The reality, however, remains that most people tend to spend more at this time of the year; mostly on Christmas presents. Growing up, Christmas was the one time when you could expect that special meal and a more than a generous ration of meat. Much unlike today, it was only at Christmas that you would expect to have a soft drink served with your food. Times were hard, nonetheless, parents would ensure to purchase or sew a “Christmas wear” for the occasion and exchange gifts with other members of the extended family. Families, therefore, generally tended to spend a bit more during this time. And still do.
Against this backdrop of the over-commercialisation of Christmas, it is easy to misconstrue true love’s gift as something to be measured in monetary value alone. The greatest gifts in life, however, can often not be purchased with money. The Bible will have us know that greatest gift anyone can give is to lay down his or her life for their friends.
Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends.(John 15:13)
This is what happened at the first Christmas. God so loved the world, that He gave His best gift, His only Son, to come into the world and die in our place so that believing in Him, we might have eternal life.
You may have probably dispatched your Christmas gifts to friends and family by now, or purchased and wrapped them, ready to be sent on Christmas Eve or Boxing day. If you were asked to prepare a present for the baby Jesus, what would it be?
The most precious gift for me is captured in the words of Christiana Rosetti, in the poem she published in 1872 under the original title, “A Christmas Carol”. Years later when Gustav Holt provided the melody to go with it, it was published under the name “In the Bleak Midwinter”. In it, Christiana asks,
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.
Christmas reminds us that the real value of love’s most precious gift is not in money. In the previous verse, Rosetti marvels at the fact that at the first Christmas, a simple stable sufficed for the almighty God whom heaven cannot hold nor earth sustain. The maker and ruler of all things did not delight to be born in a palace or a mansion, or covet an affluent beginning, but resorted to lowly Bethlehem.
And the Saviour of the world does not require precious sacrifices or expensive gifts from us either. He is after our hearts.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.(Psalms 51:16-17).
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1Sam. 15:22).
Any material gift we will offer to Him will be redundant; He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the silver and gold are His.
Like the proverbial Father, He calls to each of us amidst the frenzy of the festivities, “My son, my daughter, give me your heart“.
… because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.(Romans 10:9-10).