Giving and Receiving

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People share with me. A lot.

People also share with me. A lot.

People show me incredible generosity (“share” definition one). More than I deserve. I am continuously blown away.

People open their lives to me and invite my input (“share” definition two). So much that I can only attribute it to God’s work in me. I am continuously blown away.

I’m thinking about this as we journey toward Christmas. It has been an excruciating or devastating year for many and a rougher-than-average year for many others, directly or vicariously. Advent is about God’s coming to be with us, God’s choice to come be with us.. Advent is about God being unwilling to stay away, to leave us to our self-destructive ways. Emmanuel: God with us.

If ever there were a year we need to be reminded God is with us, it might be this one. I mean that for the U.S. specifically.

Advent and Christmas are about giving and receiving.

God gives us the presence of Jesus, of God incarnate.

God also receives. Jesus is helpless and squally, no matter how many songs tell you this little Lord made no crying. Bull. God ALMIGHTY chose neediness and dependence, and had to receive food and water, breast milk and burping. This is Christianity, a belief about bodily incarnation and the blessedness of being human. A God who will receive.

At Christmas we give and we receive. Like Jesus. Like God.

We aren’t always good at this. Sometimes we’re not grateful recipients and sometimes we’re obstinate recipients.

Sometimes we worry more about how we look giving our gifts than how people feel loved by the gifts we give. Of course you have no idea what I’m talking about. Of course you’ve never given a make-up or equalizing gift. <Wink, wink.>

I love giving. Love it. My dad instilled this in me. He was generous. I could benefit from more fiscal common sense, but mostly I wish I had more to give.

Mostly, what I have to give is listening, empathy, compassion, and dearly-earned-from-screwing-up wisdom. Well, that and baseball cards.

I like receiving, too. I’m still a kid in so many ways, several of them even good. I get excited at surprises. I get that bouncy, fluttery feeling this time of year because who knows? In fifty-two years, I’ve learned to enjoy having my hopes up without getting disappointed. Most people probably land that balance in their twenties, but I’ll take this over indifference or callousness.

To say this clearly: giving and receiving are both godly attributes, both activities God chose to embrace.

This is one of those posts in which I thought I was going in one direction but realize–God opens my eyes?–where I need to go mid-stream.

I hope you enjoy Christmas this year. I pray you feel God drawing close to you through Advent. I’m certain God wants that for you.

Here are my encouragements:

°Give freely. As much as possible, check your giving for strings. Nothing ruins our joy in giving as much as expectations or conditions. We play so many games with ourselves and we’re so adept at self-deception. When I feel disappointed about something I’ve given, it almost always shows me that I wanted some unnamed return in the exchange. God gives us love because God is love and we need love. God loves people who really don’t deserve love–not naming names–and continues to give even when we don’t acknowledge the gifts. The joy in giving comes in the act itself. When I’m looking for payback, I miss that.

°Receive freely. I’ve often heard “it’s more blessed to give than receive” as a justification for not receiving.

No.

Context.

Paul states, in Acts 20 while (lengthily) saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” So Paul is exhorting giving to, and supporting, those in need–he’s reminding these leaders that he worked hard with his own hands and exhorting them to care for others’ needs.

But. It does not follow that if it more blessed to give than to receive it is therefore not blessed to receive, as well. If it did, than those receiving from this exact giving would not be blessed and the game would be to move from being the receiver to the giver as fast as at all possible.

Unfortunately, some seem to take it this way. I’ve shared this story before, but when we lived in Nicaragua, friends who, by our measure, had so little would give to us extravagantly, especially food. That was an incredibly humbling experience. But it would have been straight up wrong, maybe evil, to have refused. Certainly it would have been a horrible offense in Nicaraguan culture. I can’t enjoy the blessing of giving and then refuse to let others enjoy that blessing because I “know what they need.” That’s both prideful and unloving.

°Go out of your way to give to others who cannot repay you, anonymously when possible. I don’t know when Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than receive,” because we don’t the quote in the Gospels but only through Paul’s preaching in Acts 20. But I believe it, and in context, this is how I take it: we must help the weak and it is more blessed to give than receive. Okay. That guards our hearts against giving in order to get paid back, and doing so anonymously guards against getting paid back in “Look what I did!” pride points (by the way, the one who dies with the most of these at the end does not win).

Sometimes we can’t do this anonymously, and that’s okay, too; we never know how God might work through us. God also gives to those who cannot repay. Us, I mean. This is a good year to be extra generous, when we can. If we can’t, no guilt. God knows.

°Coming full circle, give people ears that hear and receive others’ leaning upon you. In the U.S., people are carrying more pain and sorrow this year than any other in my memory. We tend to think of giving and receiving at Christmas as that specific, discrete act of delivering a gift. I was reminded this morning, not in the most pleasant way, that often the giving we can offer is hearing people well and empathizing. The receiving we can offer–and this is a serious one–is carrying some of their pain, even for a step or two.

Listening to someone well doesn’t solve that they may be unable to visit family or must choose isolation on Christmas. But it just may make today slightly better for them when life is really hard. Carrying a little of their sorrow won’t remove the causes; it may help them feel less alone. It may. I’d say it’s worth the risk.

We talk about “the gift of love,” but we really mean that in Advent, Jesus came to us and we are not alone. In a time when “being together” is so very limited, being reminded we’re not alone can be a powerful gift.

I pray you have a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas!

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