The gift that is both need and want
By Rev. Will Malambri
I’ve been informed that extravagant, impractical gifts are not as appreciated as practical ones. That’s why flowers, which are beautiful, but only temporarily so, are more common than, say, an iron for Valentine’s Day.
My practical (and economical) side is often torn between using Christmases and birthdays to give utilitarian gifts (things my family needs), rather than the unnecessary things that make life a little more comfortable or fun or in keeping with the fleeting trends of the day (our wants). I try to remember that gifts are expressions of love and that love is neither practical, nor economical, but, as God has demonstrated, extravagantly generous, sometimes dangerously so.
The most meaningful gifts are the rare ones that fill both our wants and needs. O.Henry’s short story, The Gift of the Magi, helps us reflect on this. In the story, without the other one knowing, Jim sold the gold watch that had been in his family for generations and Della sold the long hair that was admired by many, so each would have enough money to buy something special for the other. The sale of Della’s hair funded the purchase of a watch chain for Jim. The sale of Jim’s watch bought the combs meant to compliment Della’s beautiful hair.
Like the original gifts of the magi, the value of Della’s and Jim’s gifts, though with practicality in mind, was not in what they ended up doing, but in what they ended up showing. Jim’s and Della’s gifts showed their love was so extravagant that they’d sacrifice anything to demonstrate it.
The gifts of the Biblical magi (Matthew 2:1-12), which were completely impractical for a child, showed who the child was: a king who would both bring healing and who would need salve because of the sacrificial death he would die. Jesus’ birth was to meet the needs of a world increasingly separated from God and each other and unable to bridge the divide on our own.
In Jesus we have the ultimate gift that meets both need and want. We need him, the gift of God’s presence with us, the perfect example of a life of merciful love and faithful obedience, the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. In return, we find ourselves wanting to love, follow, and serve him because in doing so we find meaning and joy and peace in ways that we cannot otherwise.
God’s gift in coming to the world was both risky (a baby born in those conditions, including Herod’s deadly insecurity (Matthew 2:13-18)) and generous (he brought salvation through his sacrifice). And it worked – billions have been drawn to him and received salvation through him and are having their needs and wants met in him, the most practical, impractical, extravagant gift there has ever been.