Receive First  

It’s Christmas. So you will find more than a few opportunities to be generous. While your own family may trust your giving heart, there are ample appeals for your benevolence. Toy Drives for underprivileged kids at the mall. Donations for the Food Bank made at the supermarket checkout. You can give a goat on-line to a family in Africa or mail a shoebox as a Good Samaritan. All of this is great! Our hearts need to be stretched and our donations make a difference. Charities depend on this season to fulfill their mission. They know that Christmas is a better time for altruism than July! Why?  

Clearly the reason is the Christmas story. The pattern of the magi guide our hearts and hands. We see the Gift of God and follow His example by echoing the refrain of “good will to all men.” I applaud every avenue of generosity. I also add a corrective. We’ve inverted the message of Christmas. The first call of Christmas is not to give - but to receive. Christmas is not about trying to be as generous as God. Christmas is an invitation to receive from God.  

In the Bethlehem story, God didn’t wait for our participation or ask for our contribution. He used angels, a supernatural birth and a star to get it done. Christmas is His initiative of grace - God doing what we could never do. It is beyond our imagination and our resources. In fact, Christmas was necessary because we are paupers and powerless. Jesus came as our Saviour. We may try to emulate the Saviour’s generous coming. We may wonder at the miracle of His arrival. We might get excited with the good news. But before all of this - we are meant to receive God’s gift. Christmas is about receiving.  

It can be hard to receive. A sense of indebtedness creates a felt obligation to pay back or pay the kindness forward. Generosity can be rooted in pride. We don’t like feeling powerless. We hesitate to see ourselves as empty. So we give to needs at Christmas as an exercise of our resources. We like the warmth of doing good more than the chill of our bankruptcy. Now understand. I am not criticizing kindness! I hope we will respond to opportunity. But when we make Christmas about  giving, we shy away from the first truth. We are the spiritually needy. God is the infinite Grace. All we can do at Bethlehem is receive His Gift. Then something wonderful happens. Our receiving is transformed into giving. Grace becomes a gift that is shared. But this flow of favour begins with God and is routed through those who’ve learned how to receive. Consider the words of Oscar Romero. “No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self sufficient, the proud, those who because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God - for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That Someone is God. Emmanuel. God with us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.”