This is a guest post by Ben Parker
The present you've always wanted? Let's be honest, when it comes to presents there are good years and bad years. I'm very thankful for the bad years of clothes and furniture which, whilst very necessary, fail to thrill the soul. But I love the good years - I love the years of iPads or games or gadgets. They offer such hope.
As a kid I had a game boy - the original black and white grey brick of a game boy. This revolutionised my life. I mean suddenly I could play anywhere. Boredom was a thing of the past. How could I be bored with a game boy there to entertain? As a teenager I got a drum kit. I loved making noise and I thought I was great. Suddenly a world of opportunity arose in front of me. If ever I was at a loss I could just go and play the drums. Boredom was over - I mean they'd always be there. At sixth form I got a decent PC and I got counter strike source. Online computer gaming changed my life. How could I be bored when at any point of the day or night I could get beaten by twelve year olds from all around the world?
As I was growing up presents offered so much. They offered me a happier life and again and again I believed this thing was all that my life was missing. As we get older we increasingly recognise the limitation of this stuff. We look around and we don't see this gadget which is going to solve our problem. But we still do the same thing just with different stuff, time off over Christmas will sort my life out, a holiday will sort my life out, a relationship will complete me, a new house will make life so much easier, kids would make my life so much more rewarding.
We do the same thing we look at these things and we think 'if only I had that then my life would finally work'. The strange thing is all the things we've thought that about in the past haven't done it so why do we think the next thing will? I don't still crack out my game boy for a game of mario every time I get bored (maybe I should), my drums rarely get played (and it turns out I'm not that good) and counter strike source no longer fills the hours of my life. The new job got boring surprisingly quickly, the extra money gets spent without you noticing any improvement, your marriage is great (or not) but it didn't sort out all your problems and despite all the holidays you've had in your life they never have quite sorted your life out like you thought they would.
Bad years of presents may be at times disappointing but it's actually in the good years that we get a glimpse of the real problem. It's in the good years we suddenly realise that this stuff can't deliver all we want it to.
Presents are great and Christmas is great but in some ways it is just the latest in a long string of attempts for us to find what we're missing. The strange thing in all of this is that what we're missing is actually not that hard to find. We're made to exist in loving relationships and this was meant to find its greatest expression in a relationship with God. We rejected this relationship and now find ourselves desperately trying to find a replacement. But replacements or substitutes are not needed because at Christmas we remember that God himself came down and said to us all 'come home and find the thing you've spent your life looking for things to satisfy'.