About six months ago, I was given a turtle. It was a regular, garden variety turtle. This turtle had no special talents or abilities. It had no value, except that it was a gift.
It was given to me by a man with whom I have developed a significant friendship this past year. Let us pretend his name is Paco. A couple of months after moving here, I met Paco in one of the villages out in the bush where I was doing my language study. Early on, we would meet to study scripture and eventually he became a part of our fellowship.
On one of his visits to our town for discipleship, Paco showed up at my house with this turtle. He had found it in the bush, and instead of leaving it for his kids to play with, he thought I would enjoy it. So, he chose to bring it to me.
Now, to be certain, I am not much of a pet person. The closest thing I have had to a pet in recent years was an abandoned goldfish. So, you can imagine, I had no desire to raise a turtle, especially in Africa. Yet there I was, being given a turtle. The next thing I knew, Donatello was being placed in the lemongrass in front of my house to stalk insect prey. He was introduced to his new home.
Gift-giving is a ritual. Like many other social institutions, such as a hand shake, a greeting, or a kiss, gift-giving is ritualistic in nature. Now, I am not saying it is mechanical, as in done without feeling or thought. Instead, my point is that it has cultural weight and is done with purpose in mind. Perhaps its purpose is to strengthen a relationship. Perhaps it is used to show the value of the recipient in the eyes of the giver. Perhaps it is a way of saying you are sorry for wrongs committed. However, in each of these instances, gift-giving is an established cultural action that is used to communicate an idea. In that sense, it is a ritual.
Where I live now, there is a high value put on gift-giving. It is a strong cultural symbol in this part of West Africa. In an earlier post, I mentioned that gifts here often times cannot be measured with a monetary value. Truly, a gift’s value is measured by its sacrifice.
Yet, there is an important aspect of gift-giving that must be discussed. For this ritual to be complete, a gift must not only be given but also accepted. The responsibility for this act does not rely solely on the giver. This is a truth that is laid bare in the culture of West Africa. Had I refused Paco’s turtle, the ritual would have been broken and the relationship potentially damaged.
However, the point of this post is not a turtle.
During the Christmas season, we celebrate a far more significant gift. We celebrate the gift of new life. I am intentional in my wording. For we do not simply celebrate some religious holiday. We say we celebrate the birth of a savior, but it is not merely his birth we celebrate. It is salvation itself.
Yes the Word became flesh, and Christ was born a man. But we must not stop at simply celebrating the act, we must also celebrate why Christ lowered himself to this position. It prepared a way for those of us who had none. It gave us escape from our self-inflicted destruction. The real gift of Christmas is the gift of new life. Christ came and sacrificed himself that we may have life and have it abundantly.
Yet, celebrating a gift of this magnitude cannot be done with a wreath or a tree. It cannot be done by mimicking the act with gift-giving. It cannot even be celebrated by paying ceremonial homage with services and songs.
No, the only way to celebrate a gift this significant is to accept it.
Acknowledging the gift is not enough. Lip service to the idea is no more accepting of the gift than those who utterly reject Christ’s existence. We hear phrases like, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” But concocting some rhyme and sticking it in your front yard with your Christmas lights or in your Facebook status is by no means acceptance. It may make you feel better, but a gift never used is a gift never accepted.
The only way to accept a new life is to walk in it.
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