We like being givers, especially at Christmastime. Christmas helps us think of ourselves as we like to think—magnanimous, generous, powerful, having an abundance. If I’m the one who’s giving, I’m in control; I say what, how much, and to whom.
But, receiving? Receiving always makes us feel a little uncomfortable. In the past, we’ve kept gifts in a closet in my house that weren’t actually for anyone. We kept them there in case someone gave us a gift, and we had not bought or made something for him in return. It creates a weird feeling when someone gives us something for which we don’t, or can’t, reciprocate, doesn’t it? When someone pays us a compliment, we often blush, or change the subject. We feel compelled to give back; even when there’s not a lot of joy in it—we just give back because we don’t want to feel like we owe.
Have you ever thought about what’s at the root of that feeling? Unfortunately, I think it’s pride. We don’t want to think of ourselves as needy, as dependent, or as at someone else’s mercy. It signals a loss of control on our part, and we like basking in the illusion of control, don’t we?
The message of Christmas is God giving us the greatest gift ever. But, it’s also about us receiving that gift. How many times in my life have I acknowledged that salvation is a free gift, only to turn around and try to pay God back for it by being involved in some ministry, giving to something, saying that I’m doing it out of gratitude and because I serve a generous God, but in reality just trying to check a box, to pay the bill, to earn my passage into the household of Heaven?
John Wesley spoke truth many years ago: “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace.” It is a fearsome gift, this gift of grace. It requires nothing of us, and yet requires everything. It costs nothing, but calls for an acknowledgment of the bankruptcy of our hearts. We don’t have to battle for it, but it necessitates our absolute surrender. It the gift of life that entails dying to all that we were.
This is why we need Christmas. Let’s face it; for Christians, Easter is actually more important. But, Christmas teaches us how to be good receivers. That is the true measure of discipleship—to see life and everything in it as a gift. Every time I’m given a Christmas gift, whether it is a thing or a blessing that some kind person has bestowed upon me, it gives me a chance to practice gratefulness, to look the giver in the eye and thank them genuinely. In so doing, I’m reminded of my complete and total dependence on the Giver of all good things.
My hope for all of us this day is that we will not only be grateful for the gift of grace, but that we’ll crave it. To realize that God’s saving grace, and His everyday common graces, are precious gifts that are like oxygen from His Hand (and, in fact, oxygen IS one of those gifts)- that we’ll realize that we are sustained day-by-day, minute-by-minute by His glorious grace.
Thank you all for being living markers of God’s profligate grace in my life. You are His provision for me in so many ways, and I am so grateful for you. Thank you for reading along with us this Advent season, and I will look forward to reconnecting once school starts again in 2019.
Jay Ferguson, PhD, writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.