The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Maybe Christmas used to celebrate the Incarnation, once upon a time. Back when we weren’t so obsessed with keeping the X out of Christmas. Back when our rallying cry wasn’t “I’ll punch you in the head if you wish me a ‘Happy Holidays’.” Back when you couldn’t buy a 50″ television for $4.99.

Now we mistake giving gifts for becoming flesh and dwelling among them. We think bling is the thing.

Maile and I learned about this the hard way.

* * * * *

Back in the day, a small group of us from our church spent time hanging out with battered women at a shelter outside of town. We’d take a meal out there every once in a while, play with their kids, basically just hang out. One Christmas we decided the Christ-like thing to do would be to take presents there for each of the moms and all of their kids.

There were seven or eight women there, and most of them had kids, so it was a big undertaking, but our church was up to the challenge. We collected bags and bags of gifts. Honestly. It took about ten huge trash bags to carry all the gifts we had collected.

Praise the Lord.

I arrived at the shelter feeling pretty freaking good about myself. In my mind, we were basically making their entire lives – they would always think back on this as their favorite Christmas ever. Nothing would eclipse it.

We found each of the women and gave them their bag of gifts. But one of the women got three bags – she had six or seven children. We thought we were really doing her a favor during the holiday Christmas season.

But we forgot to include gifts for her newborn. She went through the bags, literally throwing the wrapped presents over her shoulder while the rest of her children looked on.

“But what about my baby?” she practically screamed. “What about her?”

To say I was shocked is a complete understatement. Words flitted through my mind. Ungrateful. Demanding. And other words even less kind than that. We had brought this woman stacks and stacks of gifts, but because we had forgotten to bring a gift for her baby – WHO WOULD NEVER REMEMBER IT – she went off.

One of the girls from our group calmed her down and assured her that we would bring back a few gifts for her baby. The mother vanished inside and locked the door to her room.

* * * * *

The next year we debated our approach. Should we do gifts again? The general consensus was:

Forget that. It was a nightmare.

So we took enough ingredients to the shelter to make a bazillion gingerbread houses. And you know what? It was a huge success because, in spite of what all the commercials tell you, people don’t want more stuff. They want to hang out. They want to have fun. They want to feel loved.

For a few hours, those women had someone to help them with their kids. For a few hours, the kids had kind men around to help them build their gingerbread houses or tease them or talk to them about school. For a few hours, the Kingdom of the Heavens was among us.

* * * * *

We try to be Christmas to people by giving them presents and money, and that’s not all bad. Gift-giving can be an important part of showing someone that you care. But people don’t need more Christmas – they need more Incarnation. They need us to be love, in person, dwelling among them.

So next time you give, don’t leave it at that. Talk to her. Hang out with him. And make arrangements to catch up again, soon. After all, there’s a Santa on every street corner in this country. We don’t need more Santas.

We need more Incarnation.

* * * * *

Today marks my first post over at Deeper Church. It’s called “Waiting for Her to Die” and tells the story of how my faith was strengthened during the time of my grandmother’s passing and my wife’s miscarriage, both of which happened within a few days of each other. You can read that by clicking HERE.