Literally, have you ever watched a child open a gift under the tree on Christmas morning? The direct result of the gift is sheer joy on their face! My two brothers and I would have competitions when we were young to see whose Christmas gift could make our mother cry – tears of joy, of course. You guessed it, I won most years! So, I make the observation that joy is often delivered in the form of a tangible, physical gift.
Figuratively, joy is also a gift which is given in the midst of, and often in spite of, the circumstances we find ourselves in. My dad is 82 years old and has lived with multiple sclerosis in his body for 40 years now. I have had a living example for all these years of a man who exudes true joy from his wheelchair despite his life-altering disease. His joy in Jesus has sustained him through four decades of sickness and anyone who knows Bruce Couper has experienced his “joy bomb” contagion. Dad has learned to cultivate the gift of joy and pass it on to others.
I have learned from watching my father that joy is not the same as happiness. “Happy” is the by-product of great circumstances, such as a new iPhone, a day at the beach, or a bonus on a paycheque. “Joy” penetrates your life like a beam of light that pushes back the darkness. It can come in the midst of your lousy circumstances and can abide stubbornly in spite of them.
In my new role as an urban worker with Mission Canada to the street-affiliated folks of Peterborough, Ontario, I have learned the secret of building trust and relationship and bringing joy into someone’s day … “giving a gift” to someone who needs it! Gift-giving has been the key that unlocks many hearts and truly brings a shot of joy into the lives of the people I meet on a daily basis. No secret here; thousands of years ago King Solomon wrote these words recorded in Proverbs 18:16 NIV, “A gift opens the way and ushers the giver into the presence of the great.”
Every day my team and I come bearing tangible, helpful gifts, items like sandwiches and water bottles, blankets, coats, shoes, boots, sweaters, and more. We NEVER come empty-handed, and it has paid off big-time in the speed in which we are able to build trust and friendship … and deliver instant joy.
Just recently, we went to find Kim. She lives in a tent under a cement structure hidden away in one of our city parks. Her partner was arrested a few weeks earlier, so she finds herself in that tent in the snow, all alone. Kim knows us and trust us – because we have always come with gifts and never asked for anything in return but her friendship.
She surfaced sheepishly from her tent shivering from the cold, and we greeted her with warm smiles and several gifts: sleeping bag, boots, a winter coat, sandwiches and waters and some homemade fudge. Her mood quickly changed, and joy lit up her face. We asked if we could pray with her, and she agreed without hesitation. We prayed for God’s protection, that Kim would know and feel His presence, that she would know that God sees her and is for her.
She exited back into her tent quickly to “put away her stuff” and was gone for an awkward three minutes or so. When she surfaced again, she was wiping away the tears and trying to compose herself. The smile on her face was joy.
After a visit we asked if there was anything else she needed and she replied, “You guys have given me absolutely everything I needed today!” Her words reminded me of a phrase in The Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day and our daily bread.”
Kim isn’t a Christian yet (that I know of), but I believe she knows that God loves her, and I am hopeful that one day we will have the privilege of praying with her to receive Jesus. In the meantime, I am delighted to be a “delivery man” with tangible gifts that bring joy in the midst of difficult circumstances, as we push back the darkness - even for 10 minutes at a time. I feel like Jesus would do that.
How about you? I am confident you will be trying to make mom cry or your kids’ faces light up with your gift choices this year, but will you also consider infusing a gift of joy into a complete stranger’s life this season? A small gift to even a stranger can bring a shot of hope, a moment of peace, a sense of being loved and seen – indeed some joy, even if it’s a quick penetration into their difficult circumstances for a brief window of time.
A simple gift can say “I see you, I care” and the Holy Spirit can use it to say “The Father sees you, He cares.” I’m sure it's what Jesus would do, and who knows that maybe it will create a window of opportunity for us to give a reason for the joy we carry as ambassadors of the Good News?!
Let these words of 1 Peter 3:15 and 2 Corinthians 5:20 capture your heart today and stir you on to joy-filled acts:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, …
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
From a fellow joy-filled gift giver, and one who is thankful for the gift of God’s Son, Jesus, at Christmas,
Scott Couper, a Mission Canada urban worker doing street level advocacy work in Peterborough, Ontario.