A few weeks ago our associate pastor Dr. Rodger Murchison gave a delightful children’s message centered on the joy of giving. In it he recollected when he was eleven years old and made this discovery in planning, preparing and giving his mother a Christmas gift. As I listened to him I tried to think back when I “learned” this lesson. To be candid, I am not sure if I have although I do remember the many times I took sincere pleasure in giving someone a gift.
About every few years I can come up with a good surprise and give Amy something for Christmas or her birthday that she does not expect. Sometimes I will surprise her with a trip to some place we talked about wanting to see. A couple of times I actually took the bold step and selected jewelry to give. One year I collected several reels of her family’s 8mm home videos taken when she was a little girl and had them converted to DVD (I forgot to pay for a sound track for the background so it is a “silent film”).
The joy of giving a gift happens for me, I repeat, only every few years. It is not that I do not like giving, but let’s face it, we are at a place and time in our life when we have what we need and creativity invariably has its limits. Gift giving for people we love often ends with frustration and desperation. Crocheted covers for the toilet are not as appreciated as they once were (trust me, I know).
Is it really better to give than receive? It depends on what we mean by giving. Strangely we typically define giving as an exchange of consumables, most often things we do not need, ask for, and occasionally do not want. Now don’t get me wrong, I love getting presents, especially when they come unexpectedly and always when they come from people I love.Yes I enjoy getting a quirky “useless” gift that makes me smile (like “Jesus” action figures; chia pets, etc). Walk into my study at church and you will see it littered with the artifacts of “gifts” many of which are deeply appreciated.
Giving, however, has nothing to do with consumables. It has everything to do with relationships. Amy reminds me that what she wants most from me is my time, and who can put a price on that? Giving is a matter of being generous with one’s attention, one’s compassion, and one’s convictions.
I have been discovering this through, of all things, junk mail. Instead of immediately throwing away all the “junk mail” soliciting donations, I try to consider making a contribution, or at the very least asking why I should not give. Of course I don’t support everything, for I do not agree about every organization’s core values. There are many institutions, however, that are good and noble and so I have a desire to extablish a helpful relationship with organizations in need of help. Instead of saying “no” I am trying to say “yes.”
Giving is a way of reframing from what I want/need/desire to what I can do/be/become. As people of faith our gifts are for the sake of God’s larger creation. Justice, for example, in the Biblical sense is not essentially about our individual rights, but advocating on behalf of what needs to be made right in others. Sacrifice, as another Biblical image, cannot be bought, sold, or traded. Sacrifice is a way to live towards others and to God.
Advent and Christmas, where the themes of giving are inescapable, remind us of God’s generosity by giving completely into human flesh. From manger to cross to tomb there is an unfolding drama of divine and human giving.
Maybe it is about giving and receiving.