by Dale Reeves
Every December I participate in at least two rounds of the White Elephant Gift Exchange, what my family lovingly refers to as “The Dirty Santa” Game. In our family’s version, most of us try to figure out which gifts my mother-in-law and my wife brought, since they tend to bring the best gifts. Other people who will not be named tend to bring gag gifts. During the game every Christmas Eve I try to repeat to myself over and over again, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” as I contemplate if I really want to steal the great gift my father-in-law just unwrapped. Let’s just say that some years I have demonstrated respect for other family members and other years not so much.
More Blessed to Give or Receive?
This past week our church staff participated in our own version of said game, but we played this year with a little different wrinkle. Our high school pastor, Tyler Ash, brought a big spongy dice that each person rolled as we moved around the circle. Each of the numbers on the dice dictated what would happen, like so:
A roll of 1: You get to keep your gift, so you can unwrap it now.
A roll of 2: Everyone pass their gift to the person on the left.
A roll of 3: Trade your gift with the person on your left.
A roll of 4: Trade your gift with the person on your right.
A roll of 5: Everyone pass their gift to the person on the right.
A roll of 6: You get to trade your gift with anyone in the circle.
As we began the game this year, we started with everyone selecting a wrapped gift from the table in the center, but they were told NOT TO unwrap the gift until later. The game continued with the rolling of the dice, while participants complied with the particular directive they received. If someone rolled a 1, then they were allowed to open the gift, and they got to keep that gift for the duration of the game, regardless of what other people rolled.
After everyone took their turn throwing the dice, we played one last round in which each person could decide if they wanted to keep the gift they had, or trade someone else for the gift that person was holding. We did so by having all staff members randomly choose a number on a piece of paper, and we proceeded with the last round in consecutive order of numbers. Keep in mind that all of this trading was done while the presents were all still wrapped, so people were trading for a gift they might only be able to guess at based on the size of the box or bag in which the gift was wrapped.
I contemplated going after the decent gift I had brought to the party, but in the end I decided to stay on Santa’s Nice list this year, and instead ended up with a regifted “As Seen on TV” present—along with a few old Christ’s Church T-shirts. Hmmmm. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
What Did I Learn This Year?
Last year I shared my five professional tips for winning this game. Be forewarned, these tips did not come from the Bible. In case you forgot, here they are again:
- Don’t be content with what you have.
- As much as possible, trade up—even if you don’t really want a particular item—each gift is only a “pawn” that allows you to remain in the game.
- Be as conniving and manipulative as you need to be to win.
- If you get something you don’t really want, do your best to deceive others into coveting what you own.
- As a last resort, talk your friend or family member into trading for what you really want.
This past week at our staff “Christmas Grazing Day,” I witnessed some insider trading after the game was over. Just so you realize that our staff is not a bunch of greedy little mongrels, all of this was done in fun, since we prioritize the ability to have fun with one another as one of our staff core values.
But this year’s wrinkle to our little game got me thinking: Do we ever trade something better for something less than good based on the wrapping we see on the outside? We know that we have already been given the greatest gift anyone could ever receive—the gift of redemption—because the Christ child grew up to be a man who would die on the cross for our less-than-perfect lives. We may look good to others on the outside when they are comparing themselves to us, but we realize that on the inside of our lives, we can all agree with the prophet, “When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NLT). Without Jesus in our lives, the outside might look good but inside we’d look like a regifted As-Seen-On-TV-passed-over gift that no one would want.
A Gift to Keep, a Gift to Give Away
And that’s why we know how desperately we need the greatest gift that was ever given. He was wrapped not in beautiful gift paper or a colorful gift bag with a nice bow on top, but in strips of cloth so that he could transition from the glory of Heaven to become a baby who could identify with our humanness. May this Christmas season find you not joining in the greed of our culture, but rather embracing the generosity shown by our heavenly Father when he sent the greatest gift of all to us regardless of our wrappings and trappings. Once you unwrap that gift it is one you will never want to let go of, but also one that you will feel compelled to share with everyone you meet.
We’d love to see you Christmas Eve at Christ’s Church as we celebrate the G.O.A.T., the greatest of all time, Jesus. We have 3 services, at 2:00, 4:00 and 11:00. Make plans now to be a part of one of the services on Tuesday and invite your friends and neighbors.