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The Gifts We Bring

“Which one of your Christmas gifts holds the most meaning for you? Perhaps it was a gift that you received, but it may have been one that you gave someone else. A few years ago my sister gave me a gift that still holds incredible meaning to me. It is a beautiful watercolor painting that tends to grab folks from across the room and pull them closer. Once pulled closer, people are able to read the lovely calligraphy verses written within the artwork. But there is more to it. You see the verses written there are things my sister feels God taught her through the struggle and loss of her daughter Sarah Catherine to infant leukemia. Because I know the meaning behind those words, because I lived through the history of those words with my sister, there is much deeper meaning for me in the gift than simply its visible beauty.” Robert K. Marshall

Introductory questions:

  • What is the most outstanding gift you ever received?
  • What is the best actual Christmas gift you have ever given? (Not love, time, etc.)
  • What is your worst gift-giving experience?
  • Why is gift-giving so traumatic?

International Gift-giving

By Terri Morrison
© Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved

Gift-giving is an art. It is an ancient social tradition, and is taken very seriously in many parts of the world. In most places, business relationships are built upon personal relationships, and appropriate gifts are a very important means of cementing those bonds. But unfortunately, even if you have the best intentions, some gifts can send the wrong message to your clients. For example:

Taboo Items:
Never give products made from cowhide to Hindus. This precludes wallets, belts, boots, purses, or any other leather item. The cow is so sacred to Hindus that several men were killed in rural India this year over the suspicious death of a cow.

Pork and alcoholic products are prohibited to Orthodox Muslims. Don’t select Virginia hams, Canadian bacon or gift baskets with bratwurst for your Middle Eastern friends. Also be sensitive to the fact that many colognes and perfumes may be alcohol based, and alcohol can be present in many specialty food items (i.e.: chocolate cordials)

Insensitive Gifts:
Make sure your gift wasn’t manufactured in an environment that is controversial for the recipient. For example, don’t give a Greek executive something made in Turkey

The wrong color wrapping paper or flowers can insult international associates. Never send white flowers to an Asian client. They are associated with funerals

Keep your well-honed knives in your kitchen or pocket! Knives symbolize the severing of a relationship in many countries.

Worldwide, there are many occasions when gifts are exchanged. In Japan, gifts absolutely must be given at mid-year (July 15th) and year-end (January 1st). They are also often given at first business meetings. Every country also has its own cultural interpretations of the best gifts, the best wrapping and the best way to present it.

Giving and Receiving Gifts

To Celebrate: Reshaping Holidays and Rites of Passage

The practice of gift-giving is as old as Adam and Eve. It may be the original basis for economics. Some authorities believe that in ancient societies gifts were a precursor to bartering, which in turn gave way to buying and selling. Lands and possessions were passed on to children as gifts, beginning a system of family inheritance which kept strict control on land distribution. Gift-giving to deities through sacrifices was an integral part of ancient religions. The purposes of sacrificial gifts were quite varied: to give tribute to the deity as king; to express gratitude; to gain favor; to establish or reestablish ties; to be purged of sin; or to provide sustenance for the deity’s earthly visits.

In many ancient cultures there were special injunctions to make gifts to strangers or sojourners. Some anthropologists suggest that the reason for such behavior was that sojourners, who were thought to have special powers, were mistrusted. The gifts were to ensure the friendship of these transients. In the Hebrew Scriptures, however, injunctions to care for sojourners are not based on fear but on compassion and remembrance: “…you were once sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33).

All of the world’s major religions have provision for giving gifts, usually as alms to the poor and needy. However, little is said about this in the Hebrew scriptures. While Israel made it a practice to give alms to the poor, concern for the poor was expressed in broader terms, and involved providing for their overall needs and protecting them against injustice. In one of the classic texts, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that religious fasts were acceptable to the Lord only when they included freeing the oppressed, sharing bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless into one’s own house, and clothing the naked (Isaiah 58). In the New Testament, Jesus identifies himself with the poor and makes acting on behalf of the poor the standard by which the nations will be judged: “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me” (Matthew 25:31-46).

Connections between gift-giving and ritual celebrations also began quite early. It was customary to exchange gifts on New Year’s Day long before exchanging gifts at Christmas became tradition. On New Year’s Day, Persians exchanged gifts of eggs - symbols of fertility - while Egyptians gave flasks to each other. Romans exchanged objects bearing the imprint of Janus, the god of two faces for whom the month of January is named. The Celtic-Teutonic Druids made gifts of their holy plant, mistletoe. Ancient peoples also celebrated birthdays and weddings with gifts. The Greek poet Aeschylus wrote about the custom of giving presents to children on their birthdays as early as the sixth century BCE.

I know that many people despise this part of the Christmas tradition. Some even refuse to participate. Others give gifts for reasons other than Christmas. Some only give certain kinds of gifts. The story of the wise men, however, seems to give credence to gift-giving. Let’s revisit their story to find out what lessons we can learn from them.

Matthew Chapter 2. “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

  • · The wise men were probably not kings.
  • · They were from the East which meant that they were Gentiles.
  • · They were astrologers. This indicates that God often begins to deal with people through natural or physical events.
  • · They knew a King had been born and they came to worship him.
  • · The fact that they asked the question meant that they didn’t have all the facts to complete their journey. They needed the scriptures to guide them the rest of the way.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rulea my people Israel.

Herod was troubled because he was the reigning King of the Jews, authorized by Rome. Obviously, the news threatened his position, but it also caused unrest throughout the city of Jerusalem. Herod’s next step was to convene a group of experts on the Hebrew scripture. Micah 5:2 and 2 Samuel 5:2 became the focal point of their interest. Indeed, the Bible says that such a king would be born in Bethlehem and that he would be ruler or a prince over Israel. They may have used Isaiah 9:6 as well.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

Herod, of course, had ulterior motives in asking for them to return to him. He did not want to worship the new King. He wanted to kill him.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presentedb unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

When they opened their treasures signified that they perhaps had much more with them, but they selected the most appropriate gifts to give to a king.

  • Gold: Precious metal, speaking to his Royalty.
  • Frankincense: Highly aromatic, speaking of worship and praise.
  • Myrrh: Used for medicinal purposes, speaking of healing and restoration.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way

Can you name some specific things that people have given to Christ?

  • Money
  • Possessions
  • Music
  • Art
  • Writing
  • Craftsmanship
  • Leadership

What is the most important thing we can give to God?

2 Corinthians 8:1-5 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; 2 How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberalitya. 3 For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; 4 Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

How do we give ourselves to the Lord?  Isn’t this really the essence of Christianity?

The best gift:


  • Isaiah 9:6 Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
  • Galatians 1:4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:
  • Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
  • Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
  • 1 Timothy 2:6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
  • Titus 2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

a rule: or, feed

b presented: or, offered

a liberality: Gr. simplicity

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