Main Point: Even though Christmas has become extremely commercialized, the best gifts are those that come from the heart with a special meaning behind them.
Discussion Starter: The Story of The White Envelope
Read (or tell) this story to your students when they’re gathered for the small group discussion:
It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas–oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it: overspending; the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma; the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.
Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.
Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes. As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears.
It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.
Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”
Mike loved kids– all kids– and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.
That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition– one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.
The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure.
The story doesn’t end there.
You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more.
Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.
Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us.
* The original idea for this discussion activity, with the exception of the “White Envelope” story, first appeared in the Ideas section of the Jul/Aug 2003 issue of Group Magazine. Used with permission. Group Publishing, 1515 Cascade Ave Loveland CO 80538.
What a really cool story. What an incredible time this family must have had each Christmas season. This family learned something that several of us may have already learned: the best gifts aren’t always the most expensive or the flashiest. Some of us have learned that the best Christmas gifts are those that come from the heart with a special meaning attached to them. Even if the gift costs nothing, or is handmade, if it has significance to us for some reason, we’ll never forget that gift! That’s the kind of gift we love giving…and receiving. Let’s talk about why that is for a few moments.
Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split into our discussion groups; afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.
CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.
- AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we get started, let’s all take a second to share our names and our favorite Christmas gift we’ve ever received.
- ASK A FEW: Did any of these gifts we just mentioned surprise you? If so, how?
- ASK A FEW: What do you think will be a popular gift this Christmas?
- ASK A FEW: What made the white envelope gift so special in that family?
- ASK A FEW: If you lived in a house that did the white envelope thing and someone gave you one, what would it say on the inside?
- ASK A FEW: Would you trade your best Christmas present ever for a white envelope present?
- ASK A FEW: Why do you think we give gifts in the first place?
- ASK A FEW: What’s the best gift you’ve ever given? Why?
- ASK A FEW: What is the best gift God has given you?
Read the following passage:
Romans 6:14-23 (NLT)
14 Sin is no longer your master, for you are no longer subject to the law, which enslaves you to sin. Instead, you are free by God’s grace. 15 So since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does this mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! 16 Don’t you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval. 17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you have obeyed with all your heart the new teaching God has given you. 18 Now you are free from sin, your old master, and you have become slaves to your new master, righteousness. 19 I speak this way, using the illustration of slaves and masters, because it is easy to understand. Before, you let yourselves be slaves of impurity and lawlessness. Now you must choose to be slaves of righteousness so that you will become holy. 20 In those days, when you were slaves of sin, you weren’t concerned with doing what was right. 21 And what was the result? It was not good, since now you are ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
The one thing we’ve learned tonight is that the best Christmas gifts are those that touch the heart, or those that meet a need, or those that truly help others. Just like in that story about the white envelope, giving significant gifts – instead of flashy ones – became a tradition. The tradition began to touch many people’s lives, not just those who gave and received them.
Then we talked about the gift that God gave in Jesus. It was the perfect gift because Jesus was exactly what we needed! When we were lost in sin, God have His Son Jesus to die for us on a cross. Because of Jesus, we have eternal life.
But what kind of gift will you give this season? Will you go with the stuff being advertised on TV? Will you just pick something up off the shelf at the dollar store? Or will you go deeper? Will you really try to really choose something that will touch the other person’s heart?
I hope that’s the kind of gift you give this year, not just because that’s the kind of gifts God gives, but because those are the gifts that truly make a difference in the lives of those we love.
Let’s give those kinds of gifts this year!
Close in Prayer
Idea by Danette Matty
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.