In our culture and tradition, gift-giving is a central part of the Christmas experience for most people, and most people willingly take part in it. A lot of us are still in the midst of the work involved in gift giving (take heart, you’re almost there!). As you know, not everyone is happy about the gift-giving dimension of the holiday. A few years back heard a gentleman bemoaning the whole process as I waited for food in a pizzeria. “I understand it for kids,” he said, “but why do I have to get gifts for adults?” He suggested that adults should just agree to spend money on things for themselves or just save their money and call it even without any gifts at all. “We should just spend time together,” he suggested. He lamented that he spent a whole day wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve – an experience to which many can relate. However, you might feel about his sentiments, I bring them up because his comments got me thinking about gift giving in general. What is it about God and humans that compels us to offer gifts to others – both formally and informally, expected and unexpected?
Biblically, a gift is rooted in the notion of “grace” or “generosity”. The New Testament Greek word for “grace” is the same as the word for “gift”, in fact. That same word is also used to express the gratitude expressed by the recipient of a gift. Grace, or a gift, is that which is given but is not owed. This is why gift giving is usually so joyful for both giver and receiver. This is also why people can get the gifting grumpies when they feel obligated to give a gift (like the fellow in the pizzeria). Though it’s called a gift, the giver can resent that the gift represents an obligation. In other words, he or she feels that it’s somehow owed in the unspoken contract of the gift exchange. “Since you’re going to give me a gift, and you expect one from me in exchange, here you go…” The gift, then, is no longer a gift in the fullest sense.
The cure for the gifting grumpies – whether at Christmas or any other time of life – is to re-center our thoughts on the gospel of grace. What have we ever received from our Father and King that was owed to us? God has offered us life in His world – both this present mortal life and an immortal life to come – though He doesn’t owe it to us. He has freely given His Son, His Spirit, His Word, and every good thing we’ve ever needed. He hasn’t owed us a single one of these. So why does He do it over and over again? Simply put, love delights to delight, and like our Father, we’re meant to take great delight in bringing great delight to others. A gift (of whatever kind) is meant to be an expression of another’s importance and value. It is the enacted declaration: “You’re worth it!”
So, Disciple, whether it’s December 25 or June 25, let’s continue to learn from our Master Jesus what it means to be extravagantly gracious (i.e. generous) to our Father and to others. Whether wrapped under a tree for loved ones or spontaneously offered to strangers who need them, let our gifts of love be given with joy rather than resentment and a sparkle in our eyes rather than a roll of the eyes!
Learning with you to give as freely as we’ve received,