You can't read the biblical accounts of Christ's birth apart from an understanding of giving. And, that's not a hard transition for most American humans, from receivers to givers. We are certainly hard wired to get, that is, to satisfy our base nature with more of just about any human commodity, whether material, spiritual, or emotional. With that being true, however, underneath our consumer compulsion is a willingness, almost an eagerness to give. Among the catalog of nations we Americans are perhaps the most generous. Giving is a character trait we value even while being basically self-absorbed. It is especially true as we cross the boundaries of this season. All I want for Christmas is counter balanced by what I will be giving for Christmas. it's a unique American twist on Father Christmas. Ho ho ho.
We are more than a little bit obsessive about the giving thing too. Black Friday and Cyber Monday launch our buying impulses with all the commercial pizzazz the marketing geniuses can muster. The spending spree that drives us through December is, like it or not, the make or break point for many businesses. Retailers depend on the seasonal sales extremes to drive their numbers up and carry them into the New Year. In the main, this seasonal push overlays all of the giving with a manic-depressive fervor that glosses over much of the goodness that a spirit of giving can create. It's hard to find warmth in giving when two people have fought to the finish over a 55" HDTV. So, yes, there's a somewhat others leaning wish for giving to mark the season. In many ways, however, this kind of giving is just as egocentric as our quest to receive. Who can give the most may be more dangerous than who can receive the most. That kind isn't the kind we find in the Bible or in the background of our celebration of Christ.
The heart transition that will take me most assuredly in a biblical direction is the shift away from the gift giving motivations of culture to a biblical model. While a spiritual design for giving is annotated throughout Scripture, the familiar records of Christ's birth are timely reminders of this grace. Let me consider a couple---
1. Jesus Christ is God's gift to the world.
John's Gospel doesn't detail Christ's birth. There are no shepherds,
Magi, room in the inn, or manger scenes in John's first chapters. His Gospel
presents an exalted picture of Christ and establishes the deep theological base
that connects the person of Christ with God's eternal redemptive plan. In the
third chapter of John, however, is the Bible verse that most of us memorize first
in our spiritual development.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in
him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16, ESV
That God gave his one and only Son forms the base-line of our understanding of giving. It was a precious gift to claim us eternally. It is what connects us to the Gospel.
2. The Magi demonstrated human response to this precious gift.
Matthew's account underscores the Messianic identity of Christ. When the
spiritual leaders, that is, Wise Men, from the east came to the house, Matthew
recorded their approach to Jesus---
And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell
down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts,
gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:11, ESV
They had followed his star and now recognized his divinity. So, they instantly fell down and worshiped him, and gave him costly gifts.
3. The shepherds gave the truth of Christ to others.
Luke's Gospel noted the details of Christ's birth from another direction. There
were shepherds keeping their flocks by night. You know what happened---
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great
joy that will be for all the people."
Luke 2:10, ESV
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them
concerning this child.
Luke 2:17, ESV
They gave what had been entrusted to them to others. This is arguably the first expression of the Great Commission Christ gave the church before his ascension. Sadly, this act of giving is the one most of us never experience. It is the cornerstone of the Christmas transition most of us should make as we enter the season.
There's a Christmas song that touches this idea of giving. Just read the words to now the first step in expressing this seasonal transition---
In the Bleak Midwinter
By Christina Rossetti
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
There are three giving adjustments for us to make right now. One, to receive what he generously and graciously gave. Two, to worship him and give him our most cherished self. And, three, to give others this gift.