Editor’s note: “Look Back” is a series designed to highlight articles from the Good Faith Media archives that remain relevant or historically interesting. If you have an article from our archives that you’d like us to consider including in this series, please email your suggestion to email@example.com. A version of this article previously appeared at BaptistsToday.org on December 24, 2014. At the time of publication, Cartledge was a contributing editor for Baptists Today.
I’ve always liked wordplay. During the 26 years I served as a pastor, few Christmas seasons passed that did not find me sermonizing on the importance of presence over presents.
I still think about it, amidst all of the packages we buy or make and wrap in pretty paper to present to others, mostly to express our love and gratitude, though sometimes to fulfill an obligation. We all know about that.
Beyond the ribbons and bows, we also know that what makes the season so special is presence: theoretically, that’s why we celebrate the Advent presence of Christ, who brings the hope of peace, love, and joy to our world.
Practically, that’s why we travel so far to be with family, or cook so much for seasonal gatherings, or take time out from shopping or baking for Christmas Eve worship with others who want to remember the gift that matters most.
It’s the presence of people who care that can make the season so meaningful, while their absence can leave us feeling lonesome and hollow. Sometimes we expect too much of the season, building such expectations of happiness that no one could reasonably be expected to fill them.
Even so, when Christmas comes, we long for the presence of others, and not just because they might have presents for us. Few people want to be alone during the Christmas season, but age or infirmity or poverty leave many folks with few prospects for Christmas cheer.
If you know anyone facing Christmas alone, consider taking time for a visit, or inviting them over. It’s hard to beat the gift of presence.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.