Gift Exchanges. It’s that time of year, isn’t it? It’s all about the “gift exchange”. We buy gifts for loved ones and they buy gifts for us. We like some of the gifts we receive and we re-gift the ones we don’t like. They like some of the gifts we give them and they return the ones they don’t like. And then there are those holiday parties where you have a gift exchange. Some are white elephant gift exchanges where you bring that item you have never figured out what to do with, and of course, could never re-gift. Or there is the traditional gift exchange where you bring a nice gift and guests spend the evening engaged in a game of stealing gifts from one another.
Whatever the gift exchange, it is always fun. Well, almost always. Last week we went to a party that included a fun gift exchange. As we were leaving, a friend at the party shared a story about a gift exchange experience he had that had gone bad.
It was a get together of friends, he explained, and he had understood the gift exchange to be white elephant. And so he searched his house for the “perfect” gift to bring ~ a little candle lantern that he and his wife had gotten at a wedding reception.
“It couldn’t have been worth more than 25 cents,” he told us. He continued the story by telling us about his wife’s concern.
“Are you sure this is the right kind of gift to bring?”
“I’m sure! You know, it’s one of those gag gift exchanges.”
”Really? That wasn’t the impression I got, but if you are sure…”
By now you are probably sensing that things are about to go badly for my friend. They went to the party and soon realized that it wasn’t a white elephant gift exchange after all ~ quite the contrary. Guests had brought very nice and some expensive gifts for the exchange. His wife just sat there mortified as one by one the gifts were opened leaving their little package containing the 25 cent lantern. It was the last gift to be opened and the lucky party guest excitedly approached the package. In my mind I can see her excitement, because good things come in small packages, don’t they? And just look at all the great things that had been brought so far? Surely this would be a little treasure. Imagine her shock and dismay when she opened the present to find the little lantern. We laughed with him over the embarrassing story and then understood why his wife didn’t join him this time. Ah, the fun of gift exchanges!
But here is truly the best story I have ever heard about a gift exchange. There was this woman who was not a terribly bad person, but certainly flawed. Over the course of her life she had told a few white lies, held a grudge or two, said less than kind things to her husband, and truth be told, she was a bit of a control freak. She was invited to go to the most spectacular holiday party she could possibly imagine, and while she wouldn’t be the richest, most beautiful, or certainly the most righteous person there, she felt she was at least good enough and worthy enough to go. So she said RSVP YES! But sadly, her RSVP came back with a note attached.
Your host would love for you to be here for the party. It is sure to be spectacular and the celebration will last forever, but it has come to our attention that you have been less than perfect. Regretfully, only those with unblemished pasts are able to attend.
She was devastated! How could this possibly be?! Who in the world could ever even go to a party like this? She was about to throw the whole invitation in the trash when she noticed some writing on the back. It was red, the color of fresh blood, and highlighted with gold. Intrigued, she stopped to read what it said.
My child, I love you so much. I would be absolutely devastated if you could not be with me for the party. I understand that you have done some things in the past that you regret, some people you have hurt, some things that may have caused you shame. No one is perfect, right? Ah, but there is a perfect one ~ my son, Jesus. He wanted you here, too, so he willingly agreed to pay the price for every bad thing you ever did or will do. It was costly and painful, but you are worth it and we want you here.
Oh, she thought, how am I ever going to repay this debt? What can I possibly do to make this right? She saw the answer written as she continued to read, as though her host had known her questions before she even asked.
There is nothing you can do to repay me, so please don’t even try. There is no exchange. I love you and this is my gift to you. All you have to do is receive it. It is my heart’s desire that you do. Love, God.
I did and it truly was the best gift exchange in the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:15