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.
--John 3:16 NIV
My father was a last-minute Christmas present buyer. It was pretty easy for my sister and I to know which “Santa Claus” presents under the tree came from Dad, because they were, uh, weird. Mom bought the stuff we had been wishing for, but Dad’s presents looked like he ran through a drugstore on Christmas Eve. I remember as a young kid having to learn the fine art of expressing gratitude for something I didn’t really want. I had to learn how to be a good receiver.
We are bombarded with advertising urging us to be good givers this time of year, but we don’t hear much about how to be good receivers. It’s easy to express delight and gratitude for things we want, much more difficult to do so for the ones we know we will re-gift or send on to the thrift store. There is a certain art to learning how to make your eyes match your smile when you receive an unwanted present. If you can’t pull it off, you look like a psychopath smiling as your eyes look confused, angry and/or sad.
It is difficult to be a good receiver, because culturally we learn that there is a power dynamic involved. The one who gives is in control. The one who gives isn’t perceived as a “taker” or somehow “less than.” Who doesn’t want to be seen as self-sufficient enough to provide gifts for others?
I read a quotation today about Christmas and it has stuck in my head, so I figured I would pass it on to you. It’s by Will Willimon, one-time dean of the chapel at Duke University and later a United Methodist bishop. He writes:
The Christmas story is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. We prefer to think of ourselves as givers—powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are.
Now wait a minute, you may be thinking, “Doesn’t the Good Book say, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Well, yes, actually it does, in Acts 20:35. Truth be told, I had to look it up, because I wasn’t sure if that saying really was in the Bible or just a saying people wrongly believe is in the Bible, like “God helps those who help themselves.” There are plenty of other verses too, which speak to God’s desire for us to be generous givers.
There are, however, plenty of verses which also urge us to be grateful to God for the blessings we have been given. I hate to say it, but I often treat the blessings of this life as if I just unwrapped a last-minute Christmas present bought at a drug store. My eyes don’t match my smile as I say thanks to God, assuming I say thanks at all. It is difficult to remember before I ever gave anything to anyone, I was a receiver.
I regularly hear critics of Christianity describe worship services as some kind of party we throw for God. Once I had a man ask me, “Just how insecure is your God that you need to tell him how great he is all the time?” I can’t remember what I replied, but I’m sure it wasn’t very clever. A good response would have been to say that the thanks and praise we offer to God when we worship aren’t to soothe God’s fragile ego but rather to puncture our inflated sense of entitlement. We need continual reminders to be good receivers and have gratitude in our lives.
If Christians learn any Bible verse, they are likely to learn John 3:16 which says, “God so loved the world that he gave his son.” It is fair to say that if we are ever to be good givers, we can only do so once we understand we were first receivers.
This Christmas, may you give out of a sense of gratitude for all you have been given, understanding that you have received more than you can ever repay.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851