The Presents and the Presence

My precious daughter Molly will turn 30 next month, but I’ll never forget one of her first Christmases. It was 28 years ago, when she was about to turn two.

We had purchased some great presents for Molly, who was our only child at the time. It would be exciting to watch her reaction to the carefully chosen gifts we had purchased.

However, to our amazement, Molly showed very little interest in the toys, clothes, and educational materials we had wrapped for her. Instead, she was fascinated with the shiny bows, labels, and wrapping paper. Rather than appreciating the actual presents, she was having a blast as she tore apart the wrappings.

I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed in her reaction. Didn’t Molly realize that the wrappings were insignificant in comparison to the gifts on the inside?

But God convicted me that day about my tendency to do the very same thing with His presents in my life. I’m often more caught up with the wrappings of the Christian life than with the presents He has prepared for me on the inside. If I like the wrappings, I may proceed to examine the gifts as well. If the wrappings are unimpressive, I sometimes fail to even open the packages.

I remember a Christmas Eve service I attended several years ago. The church had gone all out in preparing a dazzling display of special effects. The huge screens up front were filled with a wide array of specially created graphics. To the normal worship team, the church had added a full orchestra of extremely talented musicians. The overall effect was an astounding “shock and awe” experience of holiday lights and sounds, with high energy and an even higher decibel level.

The pastor preached the gospel that day too. I’m sure he did. But I’m having a hard time remembering anything about his message. It all seemed to get lost in the glitzy wrapping paper surrounding it.

I’m certainly not against creativity and modern technology in presenting the gospel message. But it’s sobering to remember that there weren’t any fancy wrappings around the baby born in a manager 2,000 years ago. The scene surrounding the newborn baby Jesus was starkly simple. Basic. Humanly unimpressive.

The point of the Christmas story was clear, and it should be the point of our church services as well: “They shall call His name Immanuel…God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

You, see God’s PRESENT to us was His PRESENCE with us. That’s why it’s such a tragedy when we get caught up in the shiny bows and wrappings and end up missing the miracle of His presence with us.

Yet I’m afraid this happens all too often. After our church services we typically comment on the quality of the music or the pastor’s message, when the more important issue is whether we ever encountered God’s presence during our time together.

I encourage you to take a few minutes today and examine your own spiritual life. Are you distracted by all of life’s activities…events…people…duties? Or are you enjoying an intimate relationship with the Savior who came to open the gateway to God’s miraculous presence?

Don’t be content with the ribbons and wrappings of the Christian life, my friend. Jesus is the Present who unlocks God’s Presence. We can’t settle for anything less.

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