You have probably seen the Mulberry handbag advert. A young couple who have just moved into their new home sit in front of an open fire, surrounded by their yet to be unpacked belongings. The young man turns from his wife saying, "I know we weren't going to do presents, but here' ... he presents his wife with a box... 'Oh Joe', she pulls a bright red Mulberry handbag from the box which glows and illuminates her face with holy splendour. 'It's the most beautiful thing I ave ever seen'. There is a knock at the door and round the corner comes a farmer: 'evenin'' he says, 'I 'eard you 'ad a new bag.' hand he comes in and gazes at its resplendent beauty cradling it as though a small child. In comes another farmer with sheep in toe as angelic choirs sing in the background. Finally in come three friends, who had been stuck in traffic. Resplendent in paper crowns they bring gifts and kneel before the handbag, 'This is truly marvellous', says, one, 'It smells amazing', the second, while the third simply looks longingly at the bag and says 'it's a thing of wonder'. By this point Joe is looking a bit perplexed says... 'guys, its just a bag' and they all laugh, and settle back into admiring its beauty.
It's a bit of fun, and a very clever advert which reminds us of our tendency perhaps to make a little more of gift giving at Christmas than is entirely healthy! But there is something profound about gift giving. It is an act of love, of kindness, of selflessness. Generosity is in many ways one of the noblest qualities of humanity. A virtue we would all want to foster.
What is the greatest gift you can give this Christmas? Whether or not we have the means, we all have a tendency to measure the value of the gifts we give by their label or their price tag. A new pair of socks... thanks so much?!? A Mulberry Bayswater handbag! WOW!
But there is one commodity which we all chronically lack in twenty-first century Britain. It is something which you can't get more of by working harder, or networking better. An impressive stock portfolio won't give it to you, and it can't be found through getting to know the right people. The thing we all seem to lack these days is time. We tend to be frantically busy. Always trying to fit more into the finite span of our waking hours.
Perhaps the greatest gift we can give this Christmas is the gift of time. But not productive time. Idle time. Lazy time. Wasted time. Time in which nothing of any use is achieved.
A parishioner who I won't name once told me that he thought the definition of a Vicar was someone who didn't know the meaning of the phrase, 'a waste of time'. I am certain that this was a complement! It is a real challenge, something you have to work really hard at, to see no conversation, no encounter, no contact with people as a waste of time. And I think this is something which shouldn't just be the preserve of vicars. We all need to learn to be idle with other people again.
Wasting time with people, people we love, certainly, but also wasting time with people we don't love yet. Wasting time with no hope of outcome or achievement. Simply being with others. This is the greatest gift we can give this Christmas, because it reflects the gift of gifts, given to the human race by God: that God being born as a human baby, as one of us, was a divine decision to waste time with us. To give himself to us in the knowledge that we could never give anything back that would add to God, or make God more happy, or content. God chose to give himself to us with no expectation of return.
So this Christmas, may we all find time to waste time, to waste time with each other, to wast time with God.