The wonder of children at Christmas is legendary. For weeks the anticipation has been growing. Christmas baking, parties, and decorations have all whetted the appetite for the big event. Wherever they go, children see bright lights and colorful displays of candy canes, Santa Claus, and holiday greetings. Now it’s time to open all those gifts under the tree. The excitement is overwhelming as they find that perfect gift—just the one they wanted…just the one that everyone wanted. They have no idea what their parents had to go through to produce this perfect Christmas. All they know is that Christmas is a great idea. Christmas getting is awesome!
At some point, we grow up. Admittedly, for some of us that takes longer than others. As we mature, we realize that Christmas is not just about getting—it’s also about giving. Parents learn what they did not understand on those early Christmas mornings when they were the children opening the presents. They learn that there is a different kind of joy in watching their children exult over the gifts they receive. There is a unique pleasure in watching someone else appreciate the gifts they give. Whether it’s the children on Christmas morning, relatives at family gatherings, or gift exchanges at office parties, we begin to experience satisfaction in blessing someone else. Yes, there is joy in giving, not just receiving. In his farewell address to the Ephesian church, the apostle Paul reminds us of the words of Jesus when He tells them, “‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35 God’s Word translation makes it a little clearer when it translates this verse, “Giving gifts is more satisfying than receiving them.”
Then again, learning to receive a gift from others is not all that easy. To receive a gift with humility takes a special kind of grace. Sometimes, receiving a gift from someone else is awkward, even if it is a “good” gift. Coming from a person we love or admire or even from an acquaintance a gift received is a challenge to us. We don’t always know how to respond. As a child, we receive gifts almost as an entitlement. There may even be a hint of greed. But, after all, we were children. Now that we are adults who have discovered the joy of giving, we must learn to receive others’ gifts with dignity. Sometimes a simple “thank you” is sufficient. When we receive a gift given with a spirit of generosity, no matter the size, we bless the giver.
At Christmas time, we are reminded of another level of giving that far surpasses the material presents we give and receive. God gives us the greatest gift of all—His Son. Living under the curse of sin in a fallen world, we are unable to comprehend the depth of our sinfulness and the deepest needs of our souls. Our normal routines can keep us from heeding the longing deep inside us to find true purpose and satisfaction. We are so easily distracted by the pressing problems in society and even the pomp and circumstance surrounding Christmas that we may forget that there is a remedy for the emptiness we feel. I am reminded of that classic Christmas song we hear at this time of year, White Christmas.
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
"May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white"
Growing up in southeast Texas, I didn’t dream of a white Christmas. Sometimes we even turned on the window unit air conditioner, but we certainly didn’t have snow. The notion that strikes me from this song is not about snow, but about reflection. When we take time to reflect on the genuine significance of Christmas, it gives the whole idea of Christmas giving a deeper, more satisfying importance than the world can provide.
When God stepped out of Heaven to become a little baby, He gave us so much more than a child. God gave us salvation. He gave us the answer to the emptiness inside us. He gave us the way to overcome not only personal dissatisfaction, but also societal discord. He gave us the opportunity to come together under one banner, the banner of the cross.
This is where the grace of receiving and the grace of giving intersect. It’s the place where heaven and earth meet to resolve the curse of sin and the separation of God and man. In order to enjoy the gift of Christmas, we must humble ourselves before God, confess our sin, and receive the salvation that God provides through the gift of His Son. “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” John 1:12
When we receive Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are, as the Bible says, redeemed, born again, rescued. Colossians 1:13-14 gives us this hope: “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Ultimately, we come to the point of cherishing the greatest gift of all—the gift of Jesus. When we do that, we develop an entirely new perspective on Christmas giving. There follows a gratitude that inhabits our thoughts and motives for giving. The transformation of the soul that results from a personal relationship with Jesus brings us full circle to that Christmas morning when we humbly receive the gifts of others and joyfully give to the needs of others. There is an almost childlike wonder restored to our giving and receiving at Christmas.
All Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.