Tis the season for shopping for the perfect gifts for our loved ones. Whether out in the stores, or scrolling the deals on our phones, many of us will be preoccupied with finding just the right gifts at just the right prices that we hope will get just the right reaction. For many, this is a way to communicate just how much someone means to us. There's a lot of beauty in that. Those faces that light up with joy and excitement are pretty great.
However, sometimes we can focus so much on getting presents for people, that we neglect being present with those people. We look for the moment of joy of getting or giving something that we forget the importance of being in the moment. This week I was reminiscing about Christmases from when I was a kid. There were certain gifts that jumped out to me. Like the one Christmas that my older siblings and I got the Nintendo 64 video game system to open together. That was a big deal. What's interesting to me is that I have absolutely no memory of actually opening up the gift. What I remember is setting up Mario Kart and all four of us sitting on the floor together to play it, yelling and laughing at each other over the absurdity of how poorly we drove. Or the Hess trucks that I got almost every year. I usually got them on the night of the 25th when we had our elderly neighbor over to celebrate with us. Getting the things was cool, but what I remember most is the people who were there.
Presents come and go, even traditions change from year to year. But the presence we are able to offer one another matters more. It is a gift to be able to sit with each other, share the joy of the moment, put away our distractions for a little while and just be. Let's not take that for granted. Not everyone can be home for the holidays. Many of us will notice the empty chairs a little more this year. So when we can be present with one another, it's important to be fully present. Regardless of who we're able to be present with, what matters most is the God who came to be with us on Christmas.
One of the names given to Jesus is Immanuel. It means "God With Us". Christmas is when we remember how the God of the universe gave up his throne in heaven to be with us. To live this life that we live, to walk alongside his people, to be united with us in love. He knows our heaviest burdens, he knows our deepest desires, he knows our joys and our sorrows. That's the greatest gift of all--not the presents of things, but the presence of God. So as we prepare for Christ's coming, with all the planning involved, let us remember the very presence of God with us along the way. His presence is the greatest gift of all.