By Ward Shope
The giving and receiving of gifts around the holidays can be a complicated affair. There are those among us who naturally excel at gift etiquette. They can find the perfect gift for that “special” curmudgeon and find unequalled joy in wrapping and presenting it – melting their target with a knowing twinkle of their eye. It takes keen observation, empathy, and many other socials skills known only to the wise gift giver. Alas, I am not among those gifted individuals. I believe, with some shame as I write it, that the invention of the gift card was the solution that helps everyone get whatever they want.
Giving is one thing; receiving is another. My parents firmly taught us that if someone gives you a gift that you already possess, it’s not polite to mention that to the giver. Or let’s say you have a gift in mind that you really want this year. Someone may want very much to fulfill your wish. But when the unwrapping ensues, the fantasy in your mind does not match the reality that appears. You have been taught to present a brave smile to thank the giver anyway. After all, it is the thought that counts, and you are no worse off than before.
The normal course of social interaction requires giving and receiving. Caring for someone means that we will “give” them our attention. If we listen well, we may find ourselves responding in a way that often requires time and money – even without thinking about it. Love leads us in that direction. And often if the love is mutual, we’ll find ourselves responding in kind. We listen and act for the other’s welfare often when it costs us something. Sometimes nothing of the material world has even passed between us. We simply give and receive as love leads.
Giving and receiving is often a little harder among us, though, even when we care for someone. The discipline of caring for someone is not always without intentional effort and pain. And the receiver may often not be prepared to receive. Sometimes the relationship cannot be mutual. One partner in the relationship has more resources or power than the other. The receiver may not want to be a “charity case” to the giver, or even to wander into a relationship that could be controlling even when receiving would be for their good. We are proud, even when we are empty – concerned about our dignity and our independence. We are often addicted to self-determination even to our ruin.
The gift of Jesus amazes me. He knows how proud we are. How more unthreatening can this gift be than a dependent, vulnerable child of poor parents living in a no-name country in the world? Or think of the “powerlessness” of the cross: Jesus’ execution at the hands of the governing authorities and those who hate him. In weakness he provides exactly what we need – relief from guilt and shame, fellowship with the One God, and a promise that all the empty places of our lives will be satisfied. Yet we often find ourselves resisting the gift, trying to maintain our independence and freedom from him – not just unbelievers, but believer as well.
Receiving Jesus as God’s gift requires humility. It is also given in humility by a God who wishes a mutual relationship with us. He is the perfect gift giver: in the way he gives in Jesus, in his ultimate salvation and in his divine providence for you and me every day. May God’s work in our lives to teach us to receive his gift without reservation and with true thankfulness.