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We’ve hopefully heard it said that it is better to give than to receive. And it would do us well to remember that He who stated that gave us His all. Yet our world is transfixed on receiving. We so often measure, even our blessings based on what we’ve received; not on the wonderful opportunities we’ve experienced in giving. We too often forget that to give in the first place, we have to realize the most wonderful things we have already received that we can then share and yes, give away. These things such as time, caring, mercy, forgiveness and most importantly love. You see God is giving abundantly to each of us who call on Him today and each day. However He gives so abundantly not so we will hoard His gifts or use them solely for or on ourselves. No, His abundant gifts come with a hope that we will souly share them with those in need, that perhaps in that sharing, some who don’t know the gift of God, receiving our shared gift from God, will, in turn, seek out God from whom all gifts come. In some way we can all give something to someone today. Let us do so and live into the blessed promise of Jesus Christ and the “better” that comes from giving.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…”  Ezekiel 36:26

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”  2 Corinthians 9:15

As with so much in the world; in Christmas time can bring a sense of confusion and befuddlement about the celebration of Christ’s birth.  What about presents and gifts; is it right to do it or is that just a commercialization of the Holy.  To Santa or not to Santa?  Is the time that I spend shopping and thinking about gifts taking away for the spirituality of the Event?

Well the word give is used 500 times in the bible. So it would seem the process of imparting a gift is not an inconsequential concept as far as God is concerned.  So it seems to me, that as in so many things, it is the intent that matters.  As well as if we go back to the whole reason for the season itself, it is to celebrate the gift of our Savior come to earth:  Jesus Christ.

Can gifts and gift giving get in the way?  Can it diminish the focus of the season?  Most assuredly.  Let’s think for a moment about two aspects of the reason for the gift; the easy and the hard.  I’ll start with the hard; the gift of obligation.  You know that type of gift.  It is the gift that we must get for someone.  We must get it; perhaps because everyone else in our social or work arena is getting the person a gift, maybe because it is the generally accepted societal norm to give this person a gift, finally it may be the guilt aspect that they have either already given, or you are certain they are going to give you a gift and will be expecting one in return.  So out you and I trudge.  We don’t want to sacrifice the money, we don’t want to exert the effort, we feel it is a waste of time to be searching for the gift.  We don’t know the person as well as perhaps the fear that our gift will be shown up by someone else’s gift.  Boy I wish we didn’t have this season that causes me to do this every year!  Maybe an exaggeration but those sort of feelings can definitely cause us to lose focus on why the season is here in the first place.

Now let’s concentrate on the easy.  I say easy, not in the sense that necessarily finding the gift is a walk in the park.  But it is the feelings that we have in the process that make something we really desire to do.  We have that special person or people.  They are so dear to us that we can’t wait to venture out to find that special something.  While we may have a budget that may restrain what we are able to do; within that constraint we are going to give as much as we can.  Effort?  What effort?  We are not thinking about the full parking lots or long checkout lines.  No, we rather we are focused on the look of joy that the receiver will have when they open the gift.  Every detail is important.  Not just the gift but also its presentation.  In the must get gift, even if it is not a lump of coal it may sure look like one from the way it is wrapped.  However, with the want to gift, the wrapping is a piece of art in and of itself, with much time spent getting each corner, each seam, just right.  Gift in return?  With the easy, want to gift, there might be some mental recognition that there might be a gift received as well.  But there is no sense of comparison, no balancing of “do you love me as much as I love you” based upon the gift.  Their very presence is present enough.

Which of those two gift intents are most representative of the gift we  received from God in Jesus Christ?  I can find no cosmic requirement that would have obligated Our Heavenly Father to give to us; His Son Jesus Christ.  Was God concerned that all the other gods were giving us gifts so He needed to at least pitch in something too?  There is just way too many ridiculously blasphemous aspects of that statement to spend any time on.  Finally, is there any sense that we, His creation, had given Him so much before, that He was obligated to give His Son to us?  Can we say Sodom and Gomorrah, Bathsheba and many, many more human examples of spiritual failure.

So it is obvious that Jesus Christ is the type of gift of Love.  Now I won’t say that it was easy.  For unfortunately, God was giving His gift to receivers who, for the most part, were not interested or believing that the gift had actually been given.  As a gift; throughout His life, Jesus was going to be ridiculed, ostracized, hated and even condemned by those he had been given to.

So what’s the most important thing about gifts this time of year?  To be receivers.  To understand that each of us has been given the most wondrous gift possible: salvation.  That we should accept this gift in the humble realization that we have done nothing to deserve this and can do nothing to repay it back to the Giver.  That the Gift was given out of Love and Grace and our right response is to receive that Love and Grace, share that Love and Grace with others and to the best of our ability; feel that Love in return to Him.

What’s a Christian to do?  Receive the Love, give in love, live a life of love to Him and to those around us.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we can get so consumed with the mechanics of gifts and giving, especially during this time of year, that we lose sight of receiving The Gift from You, which is Jesus Christ.  Pour out Your Spirit on us putting Love in our hearts that we would be overjoyed by the Grace and Generosity of Your Gift of Jesus Christ to us.  That as we go forth in this season and in all seasons to come in Love and Praise for Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive as much back; what credit is that to you?  Luke 6:34

“Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom”  Luke 6:38

Our Heavenly father sees.  That statement is often used in many different contexts.  In one way it is used about seeing our sin.  Even if we are able to hide our sin from the rest of the world; God will see it.  That is true.  In another way it is about seeing our distresses.  Even if the world ignores our pain or worse yet laughs at it, we know that God will see it and never forsake us.  That again is very true, very comforting.

Today, though, I would like to discuss His seeing in the context of us wanting to be seen; seen for what we do.  The world that denies God’s presence and influence appears to primarily be about obtaining; getting.  I wouldn’t call it a tradition but more a process, however, growing up we would always stop and watch the evening news.  There are many things I remember, space race, arms race; political scandals, generation gap, civil rights, women’s rights, wars; just to name a few.  What I also remember was that normally, if financial news was covered at all, it was a daily few second review of what happened on the stock market.  Today, we have news channels dedicated, 24-7, to finances and the acquiring of wealth.  And, its not just money, it is about acquiring cars, houses, electronics, clothes, food, drugs, and on and on.

We are well aware of the warnings that Christ has given to us about the accumulation of things and that is not what I want to truly focus on.  Let’s talk giving.  The two passages above come at the time that Jesus is giving his perhaps clearest teachings to the masses; from the gospel of Matthew, it is commonly known as the sermon on the mount.  It starts with the wonderful beatitudes.  Most of this entire message is filled with ways and things that seemingly turn the world up side down. The poor are blessed.  We should love our enemies.  We should lend/give with no thought of return.

How is that?  Come again?  I have need of ten dollars and you give it to me and never again mention it or try and get it back?  Okay, I see what is happening.  I will be in your debt, and therefore you will come to me at some point and ask for it back or ask for something else so that we are square.  Nope Jesus says.  Hmmm, okay, how about this, I will give the item; money, clothes a car and then I will tell everyone about it so that they can see how generous I am and pat me on the back and say good things about me.  Jesus tells us; if you do that, then don’t expect a reward from Your Heavenly Father; you have already received your reward.

A Hollywood depiction of this happens right at the end of the movie:  Field of Dreams.  I don’t know the faith aspect of the author of the story or those that made the movie; but I find a significant amount of spirituality in the movie and as such I recommend it.  But for those who don’t know about it, the hero, Ray, here’s a voice and see’s a vision telling him to do an absurd thing; which he does.  In tearing up his corn field, his source of income to put in a baseball field, his neighbors think he is crazy and eventually even his family comes to doubt him.  This same spirit asks and gives visions for several trips to help people along the way.  Each time Ray complies.  Then comes the kicker; right at the climax of the movie, one of the other characters is offered something Ray really wants and Ray goes off.  Ray says that he has done everything asked of him; helped all these people and not once asked “what’s in it for him”  but now he wants to know.  What we see at that point is that, although throughout the story as Ray does seemingly crazier and crazier things at the behest of the spirit, seemingly very unselfishly; in the end he has an expectation of a return.  And then comes the question on which the whole thing hinges:  “Ray is that why you did this, for you?”

So what are we to do?  First, we must open our eyes to need.  The world tries to marginalize need, minimize need to the extent that people are at fault for being in need and should find away to get themselves out of their need.  Jesus asks us not to judge, just to be open.  Then once we see a need; do what we can to help.  How much?  I don’t think it’s about totals or percentages, it is about what is on your heart.  But that will make me a patsy, a sucker, they’ll never stop coming.  There is probably some truth to that; there is much need in the world.  So, WHAT DO I GET OUT OF IT!?  If, through the Holy Spirit, we can find a way to not care about our direct reward; first and foremost we’ll see and receive true love.  Love in the way Our Heavenly Father sees love.  A love that would give the gift of His Son Jesus Christ and the Love of Christ that would accept the mission of death for us.  Secondly, we will certainly see that Our Heavenly Father sees.  Jesus Christ never made a promise that was not kept.  We will see good measure, pressed down and overflowing.

Oh by the way, in the movie, Ray gets a final reward.  A reward that exceeded his wildest imagination and that he was completely incapable of brining about on his own.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father; help to teach us that a gift truly isn’t a gift if there is an expectation of return.  Help us to Love as You Love.  To see need and freely give to satisfy that need.  May it be in our giving that we are trying to follow Your Example and our thoughts do not stray to expecting something in return.  Finally Dear Father, reveal to us that You do see and that You are pleased when we give in the way that you intended.  Help us to understand that our spirit of giving comes first and foremost from Your Example of Everlasting Giving.  That through our giving Your Most Holy Name will be praised.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.



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