Food for thought on this Merry Christmas: Is Christmas really about giving or receiving?
I first want to offer everyone blessings on this Christmas Day, wishing all of you a most Merry Christmas Season.
I also would like to share with you a personal reflection I once pondered regarding Christmas, beginning with the cliché “It is better to give than to
receive.” We all are taught from a young age the truth behind these words, mindful of how such a way of living leads us to love others ahead of looking out for ourselves. When applied to Christmas, this phrase hopefully instills in us a desire to be generous to others ahead of seeking what we want. Such lessons have their lifetime value.
Might I invite everyone, however, to go beyond the simple question of giving vs. receiving to consider what is really given and received at Christmas, making this season what it is meant to be. That meaning is well summarized in another expression: “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Christmas originates from and is given its true purpose in the birth of Christ. Accordingly, might we consider who is giving, what is given, and who truly receives that makes Christmas what it is meant to be. The answers to these three questions are plainly offered in this one statement: God gives Himself to us. Thus, it is God who is the true giver, and we who are the recipients.
Ok, so none of these words are new – we already knew that God gives us Jesus at Christmas. However, have we ever really stepped back and considered the magnitude of the gift of Jesus – and who it is that we receive? After all, Jesus’ birth in many ways sounds more like a curious event (a baby born in a stable!?!) than it does the entrance of God into the world through the taking on of the human nature. Likewise, the very touching story of Christmas seems quite contrary to sufferings,
crucifixion, and the death that are to come for this child. Yet, in God’s Divine Wisdom, such a birth and all that would follow from it are the most loving gift of Himself He could ever give – that you and I might receive Him, for the forgiveness of sin and for our salvation. Simply stated, what we do at Christmas is rooted in the humble
receiving of what God gives: the greatest gift ever to be given – His gift of Himself. Thus, while Christmas includes both giving and receiving, when it comes to our
salvation and the very meaning of the feast, it appears truly better to receive – putting the emphasis on humble faith in what God is doing for us, ahead of allowing our own sense of giving to come before or at the expense of what God alone gives.
If it is better to receive what God gives than it is to give of ourselves, then how ought we to give to Him and to one another? First, what could you and I possibly give God in response to his gift? Only one word comes to mind: Thanks. So, our giving at Christmas is not merely to imitate God’s giving; it is done to give thanks to God. None of us could ever claim to give as God gives. Yet, all of us have the capacity, inadequate though it may be, to give thanks to God by worshiping Him (this is actually central to what the Mass is – a sacrifice of thanksgiving offered to God the Father.) Likewise, the material gifts that we offer to one another can be offered as expressions of thanksgiving to God. Thus, our own giving among family and friends is in no way lost; it is made more humble, as we do it with gratitude to God for His singular and most powerful gift.
Thus, as we receive Christ at Christmas, might we remember the opening words of Psalm 118: Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; His love endures forever!