Is it better to give than to receieve? Of course. Jesus said so. This proverbial wisdom points to the need to be generous, selfless, and sacrificial in contrast to the greed and selfishness characteristic of fallen man. We often hit on this theme during the Christmas holidays, but I've come to the conclusion that this is a misguided emphasis that can prove to be spiritually fatal especially during this time of year. In fact I've been arguing the oppostie is true when it comes to Christmas. It is better to receive than to give.
A Very Moral Christmas
In the wake of the Revolutionary War Americans were actually pretty down on the Christmas holiday, seeing it as an English custom the new country didn't need. Later, in the early nineteenth century severe class distinction could be seen during the Christmas season as it was often marked by hard partying among the wealthy and rioting among some of the poor. Christmas was not a family-friendly holiday. And yet, by 1870 Christmas was made a national holiday and our country was embracing it enthusiastically. What happened? Many trace the beginning of this change to the more virtuous version of Christmas depicted by the great short stories of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens.
Since then Christmas has tended to emphasize giving generously, living sacrificially, and demonstrating kindness to the poor and forgotten. If you have kids you surely feel the need to push the whole "It is better to give than to receive" concept to combat the gross consumerism that saturate the holidays (and our own hearts). I understand the impulse, but I think this is the wrong emphasis during Christmas. In fact, I don't think the push to give is even able to take on our materialism. This emphasis on giving tends to turn Christmas into a moralistic exercise emphasizing those things we should be doing. And while we should live generously, Christmas is not about our giving, but our getting. Truly, it is better to receive than to give, and until we understand and embrace this much larger and more important truth we will never grasp the significance and true meaning of Christmas, nor experience its implications for life.
Getting > Giving
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:1-13 ESV)
The eternal Son of God didn't became one of us to show us a better way to live. Jesus was born to do for us what we can never do for ourselves. He has come to redeem us from our sin and misery, and we are invited to receive him! This is the true spirit of Christmas (and the essence of the Christian faith)-- receiving what we do not deserve. John tells us everyone who receives Jesus becomes a child of God, and Paul tells us we then receive a spirit of Adoption by which we maintain sweet communion with God. Christmas is about God giving and our getting. And if we are in a hurry to move beyond this to our own actions I can't help but think these gospel truths have not taken sufficient root in our hearts.
Do you marvel at, meditate on, and sing about all you have received in the Son of God? Consider that in Jesus Christ we receive: eternal life, the forgiveness of sin, his righteousness, his life-changing word, his Kingdom, his Spirit, and ongoing grace and mercy in the midst of all our needs. In fact, as God's children we receive every good thing in our lives as a gift from our Heavenly Father. Yes, God wants us receive these lavish gifts, and many more! And yes, he wants us to give big to others. But even here it is God who gives us what we need, for in Jesus we receive his divine power to do the very things he has called us to do. Christmas, like the gospel itself, is about giving and receiving, but it is fundamentally the gift of God received by sinful men.
I'm not encouraging anyone to stop giving, but I am asking us all to consider if maybe we've put our response at the center of the holiday when God's work should be taking the spotlight. I'm not advocating sitting in some spiritually static position and merely enjoying what we have received, but I do want us to see that we only learn to give without expecting anything in return, as we see that we have already received so much without paying.