The Christmas season. It’s here. Don’t deny it: you love the smells of gingerbread, pine needles, and peppermint candles; you can’t help yourself from flashing back to memories of sitting on Santa’s lap when you pass him at the mall; and you most certainly love the warmth that comes from watching your friends and family open the gifts you gave them. Cause giving is the reason for the season, right? I think so. BUT I think that we may be missing the entire picture and the true meaning of giving, due to an overall mistrust of God. Maybe these two ideas are far from going hand-in-hand to you. Mistrust of God and giving my friend a Christmas present… whaaa? I get it. I’ll explain my logic.
The idea of giving during the holiday season for our society is entirely commercialized and temporary.
We have to find that perfect gift to meet that person’s personality perfectly, no matter the fortune we’re going to spend. AT&T, Target, Wal-Mart, Apple, you-name-it commercials advertise having “exactly what you need for every person on your list.” A new phone for the significant other; a pair of boots for mom; sunglasses for the best friend. And maybe you struggled this year to find exactly what (insert name here) wants, so you default to those typical stocking stuffers: lotions, candles, earphones, socks… things no one needs.
We’ve also accepted the notion that this is the one and only time of year to give selflessly to those we love. Hmmm. What an interesting concept. Why is it only during the holidays that we want to give? Maybe it’s because we don’t want to at all; it has just because a norm, an obligation.
So what’s the point I’m getting at?
1. Giving should not be an obligation.
The simple fact that we feel pressed for time or stressed to find gifts for others to me seems to be an issue in itself. Giving should be done in joy. Paul reminds the church in Corinth, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.'” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
In my mind, an obligatory gift really isn’t a “gift” at all. Feeling obligated to give to another means that I must be feeling as if I owe that person something; the gift then really becomes a payment. But it boils down to the fact that no one deserves to be given anything, but that’s why we have the grace and love of God. We should be approaching giving the way Jesus died on the cross: joyful, sacrificial, and entirely selfless.
2. Giving should not be temporary.
Tying in with the first point, giving should be done out of joy and selfless desire to help one another. If we are giving out of obligation, that probably means we aren’t doing it very frequently. Christmas presents once a year doesn’t cut it. When truly give out of joy, it will no longer be a chore and happen with ease and frequency. We will want to give.
3. We are giving to too few people and/or the wrong people.
Like I mentioned before, the primarily receivers of our gifts tend to be our friends, our families, the ones we are closest to. And more than likely, we receive (maybe even expect) gifts in return.
Luke 14:12-14 says, “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet, don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”
It’s all in that verse. Give to those who can not repay you: the homeless, the sick, those who do not know your name or address or phone number. Not to say we shouldn’t be giving to our loved ones during the holidays, but to think that we will be rewarded in Heaven far beyond what we could receive on earth excites me. Jesus himself was homeless (Matthew 8:20), he hung out with the sick and the weak and the unwanted. He wants us to recognize those people and help them in His name, essentially we will be giving directly to Jesus and his posse.
And beyond giving to the homeless and sick, we should try to give to someone who hasn’t been good to us this year. Bless those who will not love you back and maybe even hate you for giving to them.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Romans 12:14
4. We are giving the wrong gifts.
My final point: We probably shouldn’t be giving boots or sunglasses or iPhones at all. We definitely shouldn’t be giving lotions or candles or socks. Assuming that we are giving these luxury gifts probably means 1. the person we are giving to probably doesn’t need these things (and maybe already own them) and 2. we have the money to afford to give luxuries. This is a problem to me because it shows how stinkin’ rich we are. (Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” in Mark 11:23) We aren’t meeting needs by giving such gifts! We are essentially exchanging wealth for more wealth, making ourselves slightly less (but in no way effectively) less wealthy and making our friends a little bit more wealthy, only to get a gift back from them and we’re exactly back where we started.
My challenge for you would to be: give what you need! You need food, water, shelter, love, encouragement, friendship. My second challenge would be to give it to those who need these things. It’s probably not your friends or family (who are likely the exact socioeconomic status as you). Maybe it’s the homeless guy on the corner by Target or the women and men in a half-way house downtown. Find those people. This is an extremely uncomfortable challenge because it requires you to give a little more than chunk change. It requires interaction, bravery, sacrifice, and trust.
I’ve ranted a little too long… Tomorrow I’ll explain how this ties into the idea of trusting God. Stay posted!
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