Who wouldn’t want to shop for her? First, she’s happy already; any gift you get her will just make her smile more. Then, she’s a kid, and there are lots of things kids enjoy. Of course, there are those two front teeth.

The idea that people “want” something for Christmas is confusing. You’re supposed to know what that is? Maybe you can read their “Christmas list.” What? People actually make lists of what they want as gifts? Yes, sometimes on paper, but more often in their minds. That’s the tricky part; you have to be a mind-reader. Two young lovers throw their feelings into the process, and the gifts they come up with often tell a spontaneous romantic story. But after a few years of marriage, it becomes harder. Does my wife’s gift of cologne mean that she sees me as an amorous heartthrob, or that I have a body odor problem?

There’s a special category in every extended family or circle-of-care group: the individuals who are “hard to shop for.” This may be because they seem to have everything, but more often, it’s because you don’t really understand them. They may even be very close relatives whom you have known all your life, but you don’t “get” them. They seem to live on another planet.

Imagine shopping for a far-off Baby King you learned about through some strange arrangement of the stars. The three Magi (“Wise Men”? “Kings”?) we read about in Matthew 2:1-12 were powerfully moved to travel many miles to pay their respects to him, and they wanted to bring fitting gifts to show their honor. They brought “gold, frankincense and myrrh.” These were all valuable commodities in the Middle East at that time, but they were also the kinds of gifts you might give to a person who is hard to shop for because he already has everything!

There’s a beautiful story, written by Henry van Dyke in 1895, called The Other Wise Man. You can read it online here, or you can watch a 1985 TV production of it here. It’s about King Artaban, another Magi from Persia, who was scheduled to join his three associates for their journey to visit the Baby King. His gift consisted of several very precious gems, including The Pearl of Great Price. He missed the other Magi’s departure because he was trying to meet someone’s pressing need. After that, he began his own catch-up journey, which lasted more than thirty years. Along the way, he was repeatedly distracted by the needs of people he encountered, sometimes having to use one of the gems to solve their problems. Over the years, he followed Jesus’ ministry from a distance and became a believer, but he had a great deal of “Christmas guilt” because he wasn’t successful in delivering his precious gems to Jesus. Finally, he reached Jerusalem in time to come upon the crowd dragging Jesus to his crucifixion and tried to use The Pearl of Great Price, the only gem he had left, to pay for his ransom. Once again, he was pulled aside by the cries of a person in need. Finally, as he was dying a “failure,” in his mind. But Jesus met him in his last conscious moments and said,

“Verily I say unto thee, Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Maybe you ought to try this on your hard-to-buy-for friend:

“In your honor, I gave a Christmas meal to the homeless man I walk by every day.”

– Pastor George Van Alstine