Remembering back to a time when I was a young mom and my children were small, we entered the Christmas season with very little in our budget for presents. Even so, I wanted my 4-year-old daughter to experience the joy of giving, so we took my infant son’s newborn-size socks that he had outgrown, dyed them in tea and glued lace and sequins and ribbons to make a memorable Christmas tree ornament for friends and family.
On Christmas Day my daughter was such a delight as she handed out her homemade presents to grandparents, aunts and uncles as though giving was the best present of all. You should have seen the look on her face when she found out there was a gift under the tree for her from her auntie, and when she opened it to find a purple sweater, her response was, “There‘s a gift for me, Mommy, and it’s just what I always wanted only I didn’t know I wanted it!” We had concentrated so much on giving that she had no clue there would be a gift for her. Her response was pure gratitude.
What I like the most about this story is that my daughter was a cheerful giver and a gracious receiver. Many of us would consider ourselves giving people; however, giving gifts can be easier sometimes than receiving gifts. It is more likely that we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous but because we are proud. To receive a gift oftentimes makes us feel humble or indebted, and that makes us uncomfortable.
The Christmas story, the one according to the Gospel of Luke, is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how important it is for us to see ourselves as receivers of God’s gift — God’s gift of grace. Most of us are familiar with John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives as gifts, not possessions. John Wesley once noted, “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace.” Grace offends my self-sufficiency, my self-righteousness, but what God wants most is for me, for us, to simply receive it with gratitude.
On Christmas day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God’s gift of salvation and redemption to all peoples of the earth. It is a gift we can turn from or turn to; we have a choice. But oftentimes when we receive this gift and open it in our hearts we declare, much as my daughter did, “There is a gift for me … I’ts just what I always wanted only I never knew.”