Did you know that the present (time) and a present (gift) are actually etymologically related? The word “present” comes from some Latin word bits that mean “to be before” or “to be at hand.” The present time is the time at hand, and a present-gift meant “bringing something into one’s presence.”

What can you get for a loved one these days that they can’t easily acquire for themselves with a quick search on the internet? Christmas shopping is so streamlined now that one family member can set up an online wish list, and another family member can go to that wish list, click on an item, and press “purchase”—holiday shopping complete!

At school chapel the other week, the minister talked about a young child’s gift to parents. The child puts a lot of effort into the gift—drawing, cutting, writing. But, if you think about it, the child simply gave back to the parents what was already theirs—they bought the paper, the markers, the table that the child drew on (and probably actually drew ON); the child is alive and clothed because of the parents. The child can’t give the parents anything that they don’t already own.

For a time, a piece of me was cynical about how streamlined gift-giving has become. I mean, people don’t even have to get in their cars and go out to big, busy, over-crowded malls in order to buy a gift to serve as a token of affection for the season anymore. But, after thinking about it just a little bit more, I realized that today’s efficiency of shopping and gift-giving might just be what we need to show (and remind) us that the presents aren’t the point.

Aren’t we that child that is drawing, and cutting, and writing? This is true when it comes to gifts that we might give to the Lord, of course. He gave us the very desire to offer those things back to Him. And we are equally that child in regard to gifts that we give to and receive from each other—the Lord gave us all that we have, including the energy and ability to work for money so that we can buy those gifts, and so, our gift-giving is no more than re-gifting what the Lord has given us.

The true purpose of presents is not the presents, but the love that the presents represent. And the best present we can possibly give each other is actually the same gift we give to the Lord—thinking less of ourselves and less of this world so that we can be fully aware of what someone else needs, and so that we can be fully there with each other—fully present.