Saturday, December 24, 2011

The art of giving and receiving

Christmas has become the season for giving for appearance’s sake – grabbing a box of chocolates at Walgreens, slapping a red bow on the box and handing it to whomever you might feel the slightest tinge of obligation to say, “Merry Christmas.”

When Christmas approaches, one of the first questions we hear is, “Have you finished your Christmas shopping?” It’s a question typically followed by stress-induced sighs, eye-rolling and hair-pulling.

Have we forgotten the nature of a gift?

It’s a question worth pondering. Giving has become an obligation, an inconvenience and a practice rarely rooted in a desire to participate in the giving of God. Not only does our reflection about giving impact how we approach the presents under the tree this Christmas, but it also sheds light on the Gift that we receive in Christ becoming man, living, dying and rising for us.
Perhaps we should begin with the realization that we are even able to receive gifts. Before anything else, we received the gift of our very lives. Where there once was nothing, God did not create simply something, but someone. He literally loved you into existence.

Although God did not have to create us, it was fitting that He did. Why? Because who He is within Himself is Love. Love always wants to give and to be fruitful. So out of His abundant generosity, God created us as a pure gift.

But He doesn’t stop there. He gave us the gift of free will and of intellect, and therefore the ability to love Him in return. We aren’t robots who give a monotone, “I love you” upon command. The gift to receive love and to give in return is an unfathomable blessing, yet one we often take for granted.

God didn’t stop with the gift of making us in His image and likeness either. When Adam and Eve used their free will and intellect to choose their own plan, instead of embracing God’s loving gift, He did not throw His hands in the air in disgust or leave us to our own pitiable plans. Rather, He revealed His love to us in the most unexpected way – through another gift.

Approximately 2,000 years ago, on a particular day in a particular town at a particular time, a particular woman gave birth to God incarnate. In the greatest humility, generosity and desire for His creatures, God gave us the gift of Himself – a visible revelation of the Love that created us and then redeemed us. The silence and simplicity eloquently captures our attention – God loves us each intimately and profoundly, and is willing to slip into our daily routines to offer us a glimpse of His radical love.

What, then, is a gift? It is something we cannot earn or produce for ourselves. It is freely given. It is a revelation of generosity. It is irreplaceable. It expresses and solidifies a relationship between two people. A gift includes something of oneself, which, along with the gift, is either received or rejected.

If the very meaning of our lives is gift, then how does our material gift-giving reflect this? During this Christmas season, as we wrap our presents and check off our shopping lists, may we do so out of love, generosity and a desire to share in the love of God that is revealed in an outstanding way through the Baby Jesus entrusting Himself into our hands into our hearts.

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