Yesterday’s sermon was on the theology of gift giving. It’s easy to slip into the expected Christmas rush with all the stress of shopping like a maniac and we can forget what it is we are doing. So here’s why we Christians can celebrate Christmas like no one else on the planet. We really do have a reason for all this.
First, the Magi brought Jesus gifts. And they brought Him expensive gifts. Matthew calls their gifts treasures. So gift-giving has always been associated with the story of the Incarnation.
Second, the overwhelming message of the New Testament is that God gives to us so that we can give to one another. The two commandments to love the Lord our God and love our neighbor are like two parts of a whole, like a violin and a bow or a lock and a key. We don’t just love God in our hearts; we love Him by loving our neighbor. These two things are connected. These two commands are a unit. Freely we have received; freely give!
Of course there are ways we can sin in the gift-giving. One way is by being grumpy about it. Or we can sin by giving to our neighbor instead of giving to God, and we can sin by giving to God instead of giving to our neighbor. The Pharisees did this when they didn’t give to their needy parents because they had given the money to God (Mark 7:11).
Christians can buy into the heresy that material things are bad in themselves. This can be a trap for many Christians, because it can sound “spiritual” to say that you are not going to participate in the crowds and the materialism and the crazy gift-giving of Christmas. Some say it isn’t about Jesus at all, but simply about commercialism. So they don’t celebrate Christmas at all. Their kids get no gifts. Instead they say they will give a gift to the poor in lieu of gifts for the kids. This sounds super-spiritual, but it can be just like the Pharisees who called the gift “corban.” Remember the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? When she interrupted the animals having a little Christmas celebration, she called it gluttony and extravagance.
Our relationship to God is mirrored in our relationship with our neighbor, and our family is made up of our closest neighbors. The state of our marriage, our relationship to our kids, and our relationship to our friends and coworkers all reveal the condition of our relationship to God. If we are serious about loving God, we must be serious about loving our neighbors.
This means we act horizontally how God has acted toward us. He has given extravagantly to us, over and over again. He does not stint or ration out His grace and mercy and love toward us in tangible ways every day. We must not be like Namaan who wouldn’t stoop to be washed in the Jordan. He wanted something more “worthy” to do to be healed. We must not scoff at gift-giving as something beneath our great spirituality.
Of course this does not mean tearing around throwing away our money senselessly. We should give with wisdom. We should love the crowds of Christmas and we should love the merchants. Jesus loved the crowds and He loved to feed them. He gave them gifts of fish and bread. He gave them living water. The merchants at the mall are a form of God’s grace to us, so we should be thankful for them! Thank God for the mall and the crowded parking lot!
The best gift we can give to one another is gospel-saturated grace. When we give gifts to one another, we are giving to Jesus. He keeps track of drinks of water. So we should give our gifts with the same spirit of grace. When we give with the right spirit, Jesus says thank you. He graced us, and we imitate Him. He gave us the Holy Spirit so we would become givers and lovers like He is.
And finally, why do we wrap our gifts? So Jesus will be surprised. And we might say, “What are you talking about? Jesus isn’t surprised!” But when was Jesus hungry and thirsty or naked or in prison? When we give to one another, we give to Him.
So, we ought to load up all our gifts and laugh as we wrap them, and offer them all to Jesus in His name as we write on the tags and fill the stockings.
Isn’t God good that He lets us imitate Him in such delightful ways? And we glorify His gift to us in His birth with each gift we wrap.
God bless you as you shop. Don’t grow weary of the gift-giving. Render it all unto the Lord! And have a very Merry Christmas!