What makes a good gift? Is it the amount of money that is spent on the gift? Is it the amount of money saved on the gift? Does a good gift come from certain stores only with certain names on them? Is a good gift one that is completely practical? Is it exactly what was asked for? Or is a good gift one where there was thought put into who was receiving the gift and what it is that they may like or that will communicate thought and love?

I’m sure most of us have given gifts that we put absolutely no thought or little meaning behind it. Our culture has turned Christmas into a time when we are trying to get the best deals for the best gifts rather than a celebration of Christ’s birth. Giving gifts has always been part of the Christmas story. However, we need to learn how to give differently and more thoughtfully.

Give fewer presents, but give more presence.

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:23)

If we’re going to give more and better, we should give like God did on Christmas. God came to be with us on the first Christmas. He gave His presence. One way we can give more is to give ourselves to others.

While most of us cannot remember all our gifts last year, we do remember the time we spent with people. So how do we give presence? Do we just show up? No. I don’t think that is what we are supposed to do. Let’s think through how we can give more presence to those we care about this year.

Here’s an idea. A popular gift over the last couple of years has been those single cup coffee makers. Boxes of the coffee pods are also popular gifts now. Do you think if you gave someone you care about a box of 24 k-cups for their coffee maker, they would remember that next year? Probably not. But what if that box came with a note that these were to be used the first Saturday each month when you and I get together and enjoy some time together. Do you think they might remember that gift next year? That is the gift of presence. I bet you it would be one of the best gifts you got. You can also do this with gift cards to restaurants.

Or what if you gave your son a football or your daughter a Barbie and with it came 6 coupons that can be anytime you were home to play with them? You see we can still give gifts, but we want to give gifts to those who are close to us in a way that we can give them our presence, which is really and truly the best gift we can give. Your kids might not remember the football or Barbie, but they will surely remember them time you spent with them.

Spend less money, but spend more time.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)

The wise men took a long journey to worship Jesus. It probably took months. Yes, they presented gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. But one of the gifts they gave was their time. They spent a long time coming to see Jesus.

So often we spend money so we don’t have to spend time. Gift cards are an example. I’m not knocking them. I love getting them. And they’re easy to give. But all it takes is money, not time. So, what am I talking about?

Make give a keepsake. Maybe you can make some sort of remembrance for someone in your family like a book or a video with pictures and music. Make some cookies or a baked item. I know I have had gifts in the past of pumpkin bread or cookies and those are some of the most special gifts, not just because they are delicious, but I know someone took the time to make them for me.

I remember Christmas of 2006. It had been a difficult year. Among other things, my mother passed away in June and Josh was shot while serving in Iraq. My sister moved into my mom’s house and we were having Christmas at her house without my mom. My sister went through the house and found some things that she thought could be give to each of us “from my mom.” I don’t remember what anybody else received. But I remember opening the box that had my dad’s American flag he received at his funeral. It had triple meaning: My dad, my mom and my son. It wasn’t just the gift, but it was the time my sister spent picking out it out. It didn’t cost her anything, but it meant everything.

The time we spend thinking about what someone would like and then spending time to make it or put something together is part of a gift that will last much longer than a toy that will be broken in weeks or discarded and not used in the next few months.

Reduce the gifts of stuff, and share the gift of salvation

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:15-18).

The shepherds spread the word about Jesus’ birth and what the angels had told them. If we are going to give more, we are going to need to give the message of salvation to people this Christmas.

Even as we gather with friends and family this Christmas, and have conversations about what we are doing for Christmas, we can tell them that we are trying to give more “presence” this year and explain to them what that means.

Maybe you are making more money this year and excited to be able to give more than you have in the past. I hope you realize that it is not always about how much you spend, but how you give. When we give the gift of our presence, and when we can share the gift of God’s presence as we share with them the reason for Jesus coming to this world, we honor God and celebrate Him because we are giving like He gave.