WITH HOPE: Just the right present

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, May 29, 2022

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By Charles Qualls

Did you know that today there are 212 shopping days left until Christmas? Those of us who are of a certain age have become used to hearing that kind of countdown, albeit a little later than this time of year.

I can remember a Christmas one year where my brother and I were trying to figure out what to get our mother. We wanted to get her just the right present. Being three years older than me, my brother naturally knew more and had more ideas. So I thought.

Finally he said, “Let’s get her a nice candle.” Well I was just a little kid, we both were, and that sounded nice to me. So we got her a candle. Now, don’t think of the scented kind you could go to the mall and get today. Think of a candle you could get today at Walmart and put into a candlestick. This was a candle with no scent. 

Well, she did a great job feigning her excitement about the candle from her two little boys. So when her birthday rolled around, we knew just what to get her. She liked candles, evidently! 

Next Christmas, she got yet another candle, I think. So when the next birthday came up, apparently my dad had been dispatched to head that off. I said to my brother, “Hey, she obviously likes candles. Let’s get her another nice one!” To which he said, “We’re gonna have to think of something else. I think Mama has enough candles!”

Theologian Brian Erickson says that there is something ominous about the countdown to Christmas, where we are constantly reminded of how little time we have left to complete our necessary purchases. Knowing that we have only a certain amount of time brings a sense of urgency to what otherwise would be ordinary days. 

We Christians have conditioned ourselves to protest that Christmas isn’t really about gifts and commercialism. On that, we are right. Then, we think of that one person in our life for whom we try each year to get just the right present. 

Shopping days. Countdowns. Deadlines. Lifespans. Knowing we have a finite amount of time adds an urgency to life. Jessica Tate observes that human frailty isn’t something we like talking about in polite company. People much prefer to talk about heroes, beating the odds, miracles and making it in life, whatever it takes.

She says, “Maybe that’s why everyone is always so shocked when there is some crisis, be it natural disaster or war, death or economic collapse. We ask, ‘How can it be?’ People don’t like to confront even the possibility of what they can’t control.” 

American citizens average just a little more than 78.5 years of lifespan. Women still live a few years more than men, mostly because little boys and young-to-middle-aged men have a phrase we use that girls and women don’t draw on as much: “Hey, watch this!”

What if we all woke up every morning and we could see how many days we had left? What if, above the mirror in your bathroom, there was a big digital countdown letting you know how many days you had left like we do the Christmas shopping days countdown? 

What’s uncanny is that in Psalm 90, the writer nailed it. “The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong.” No less than Abraham Lincoln drew on this notion from Psalm 90 in his Gettysburg Address, a speech where he was at the dedication of a cemetery built as a burial place for war dead.  

Some believe he was inspired by this, noting that our then-young nation had lived roughly the biblical lifespan described here in the 90th psalm. Lincoln seemed to be wondering if our democracy could be rebirthed from Civil War to live at least another lifespan. 

God has been a dwelling place, a place where one can take “sanctuary,” or, as found here, a place where one can hide, find help or refuge. Such a spiritual home is a gift from God. 

The psalmist wants for us all the wisdom to yield our lives to God’s leadership and keeping so that what remains of our precious days are given over to God’s will. He asks for a heart that turns away from human attempts at self-deception and self-justification. A heart, instead, that genuinely turns back toward God. That would be just the right present.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.