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Presents and Presence

One of the first things many people think of when they hear the word Christmas is gifts. Gifts and Christmas have been interchangeable for a very long time in our world’s history. But over time, what people think of as gifts has shifted. Each new era or generation defines it differently. There were monetary gifts such as gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the days of Christ, when all things were handcrafted and only the wealthiest of people could have precious ore or spices from distant lands. Or perhaps, during the great wars of the twentieth century, a gift of war bonds was precious when patriotism and the survival of the world made things like toys seem trivial to many. Now, everyone wants the latest iPhone or the newest technology. Throughout our lives, what we want also changes. Gifts shift from toys, games, and candy to technology or clothes–all inconsequential things that provide short-term entertainment. However, all of these things fade and have less impact on our true joy. Joy can really be found in the simple things of life.

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Each day, as we move forward in this life, we can appreciate the small gifts we receive: having a nice meal, having somewhere to sleep, or having the clothes we need each day. These gifts are truly taken for granted by many of us, and yet they bring much more into our lives than the flashy, expensive things we wish would bring us happiness. If we could only appreciate these simple gifts we would find much more joy.

Some of these simple gifts are the talents of ourselves and others, service given and received, opportunities for growth, or cultural connections made with those near or far. Cultural dance specifically has provided many with opportunities to associate with people of different backgrounds, and to better connect with them in both song and dance. The light in someone’s eyes that comes when they realize that a barrier you both thought was there is gone–that is a gift. Learning about other cultures, growing to more deeply appreciate the things others have to offer, and learning how to connect with people around–these are gifts that can be given. These are things that can be given without money and by working hard and showing you care.

With these moments in mind, time changes, and we realize the clock will keep ticking–the importance of our relationships becomes ever more obvious. Be it familial relationships, romantic relationships, or everyday friendships, we learn the vitality of love and support in our lives as we grow older. No matter the time period, relationships have proven themselves the ultimate gift and representation of love. We see this with the shepherds coming to learn and know of Christ, we learn of it with each soldier who returns home from overseas, and we hear this in our modern music with titles like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Throughout time, no matter the value of physical things, people have continued to grow in their desire and passion to share love and relationships with others as their ultimate gift. As we have seen throughout history, monetary objects change in value, fall apart, and are easily lost, but relationships endure. They can endure at any point in life or at any level of personal wealth. They will last for as long as you seek them out and cherish them. They will ultimately bring more joy and fulfillment than any other physical gift. When our lives near their end, these are the gifts we will remember most: the people we love and the relationships we have formed.

It is true that some of the most important relationships we have here on earth are in our family. However, the most important one we can strive for is a deeper relationship with Christ. When all else fails, both in monetary things or even earthly relationships, Christ is there to love and support us. His life and our relationship with Him are the most important of all. Other special people come into our lives but nothing can outlive the blood that Christ shed for us. Not only is our relationship with Christ a gift, but his sacrifice inevitably has become the biggest and brightest gift that no other thing or other person can fulfill in our lives. At the end of the day, Christ's love has been the most divine gift that has ever been granted. To feel and make note of His love, especially during this holiday season, we remember that His gift is the most miraculous and magical one of all.

As you consider the gifts you’ve given and received this year, think about all of the things you’ve had the opportunity to share–both monetary or not–and the moments and people we have learned to appreciate. All of these things are good, lifelong gifts. Yet the most important one that often gets forgotten in this life which should always be remembered, especially in this time and season, is Christ. Both our relationship with Him and His life are given to us freely. We merely need to step up and accept the love He has given us and continues to give us throughout our lives. This season, as we give our gifts, appreciate our blessings, and find joy with our loved ones, let us remember that everything we give to others needs to be given in memory of Christ, the ultimate gift.

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