Giving and receiving.
Over the centuries we Christians have managed to maintain the spiritual relevance of Christmas. Though many of our current practices are blended observances of the winter solstice, secular seasonal celebrations, and ancient festivals of the appointment of royal houses, the influence of Christianity around the world has kept the word "Christmas" visible even in countries where the Christian faith is light in the population. When the more secular concepts of lavish giving began to characterize the seasonal practices even among the observant Christian populations they were sanctified by emphasizing the biblical ideals of giving. You know, the Magi bringing costly gifts to the Christ-child; the New testament teaching that it is better to give than receive; the recognition that Christ is God's greatest gift to mankind; and most importantly, that eternal life is God's gift, lest any man should boast.
So, last week the 2018 season was kicked off with another Black Friday scramble for the best deals in the giving bonanza that precedes the contemporary observance of Christmas. Today is Cyber Monday and the promise of reduced holiday pricing will drive thousands of us to the information super highway for more deals. The season of giving in on. Before most of the decorations and lights are unpacked and displayed the color of the holidays is established yet again. It's not gold or glitter, or red. It's green, the color of money, the substance that makes giving happen. Show me the money!
So, who's going to argue with that, a season where giving is the dominant theme? It's a sincere and worthy aim, the desire to honor the special people in our lives with unique and well-thought gifts. Christmas giving does actually make many us kinder and gentler humans, even in the manic spending sprees. On the edges of this giving frenzy will be worthy acts of generosity and kindness, an explosion of genuine care for those less fortunate. Around the world, on every continent, in every language group there will be expressions of benevolence providing food, clothing, even toys and games, to people in the lower regions of the world economic ladder. I mean, do some homework on the Operation Christmas Child project or similar organized efforts to provide Christmas cheer to others. That the Christmas season stimulates these acts of concern and humanitarian kindness can't be criticized. The heart to give certainly isn't a seasonal negative.
But, then, there's the grace of receiving. And, I'm not talking about the new tie or bath robe or computer game. The Christmas season, if our Christian take on it is correct, is about receiving God's gift to mankind, the Lord Jesus Christ. It celebrates God coming to us, Immanuel. In so many of our traditional observances, however, that's little more than a matter-of-fact shrug. We typically take receiving God's perfectly timed gift for granted and relegate that discussion to the margins of our scripted season of giving. That's reserved for church. But, if we dig through the Gospels we'll discover that receiving is more than a footnote to the Christmas miracle. In fact, receiving is the central issue of Christ's earthly ministry, the simple truth that he be received in the manner God intended. Sure, many of the ancients accepted him as a prophet or teacher. But, few in that day would receive him as the glorious Son of God sent to take the sins of the world. Expressing the grace of giving, then and now, has little meaning until the grace of receiving is clarified.
Apostle John wrote about receiving Christ.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become
children of God.
John 1:12, ESV
Receiving certainly means something significant in this context. It's more than a baby in a manger, the shepherds in the field by night, or the Magi with their precious offerings. To receive him is to recognize that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Receiving Christ moves us beyond the angelic hosts, the star over Bethlehem, or our wonder at no room in the inn. To receive him is to know the truth that "...unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11, ESV). You know, the Savior, the Lord.
It's the week between holidays, Thanksgiving last week, the Christmas season in all of it's glamour getting in gear this week. Many of our decorations are a tangled mess, stored away hurriedly at the end of last season. Those chaotic strings of holiday lights may mimic some of our Christology and the deeper meaning of seasonal giving and receiving, a tangled mess. Here in the preseason, let's untangle some of it.
Here's an assignment. This week in your personal or family devotions read the Gospel of John 1: 1-18. John's verses identify with great clarity the Christ we are to receive. As a further study, carefully read Colossians 1:15-23. These verses introduce the Christ we're to worship, the glorious Son of God. The end result in this preseason will be that our giving will be so much more precious when we untangle the mess of our shallow Christology and receive with joyous celebration the one God sent.
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