“It’s better to give than to receive” – how often have you heard this phrase quoted to exemplify “the Christmas spirit”?
In a culture obsessed with money and self-image, it can seem radically counter-cultural to focus on giving gifts and serving the poor. What could be more right than to give generously to those around us, especially those whose needs are going unmet?
Now, care for those around us is certainly not a bad habit, especially when it brings life or hope to someone in need. But we can quickly fall into trouble if we think that “the meaning of Christmas” can be found in people giving each other things!
“we fall into trouble if we think that Christmas can be found in material transactions between human beings”
Christmas isn’t about people providing for another, but instead a uniquely divine act of grace: God sending the Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to redeem a hopelessly-lost humanity. It is a story of heavenly providence and the high point of a history of creation, love, rejection, and redemption.
The story of Christmas challenges us in many ways, but our first question should be: how can I really receive Christ?
Yes, the act of welcoming Christ into our lives will lead to worship and obedience, which includes acts of charity, grace, and kindness. But if we jump too quickly to how can I give?, we miss the richness of exploring the question: what am I receiving?
It is extremely easy to keep operating in a system that is human-centered and materially oriented, just change how we see ourselves: instead of being “the receiver”, we decide that we’ll be “the givers”. But doing this actually overlooks the greater transformation that God wants to take us through: not only changing our role, but bringing us into an entirely new system!
In the holiday season, it is right to want to serve the poor and give gifts. But as we do so, let’s ask ourselves: are we doing it in a way that’s basically secular, seeing generosity as something that’s good on its own? Or are we making ourselves into God, providing for others because we’re trying to “save” them?
Or are we giving as an act of worship, imitating Christ and caring for Him in the people around us?
We can’t give what we don’t have – and so, to share Christ with a world that desperately needs Him, let’s remember to “fix [our] eyes on Jesus, the maker and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)