Open the pages of the Bible to study the birth of Christ and you’ll notice that they rustle with one simple overriding theme—the privilege of giving surpasses the pleasure of getting. Just look at our familiar cast of characters in Bethlehem and what are they doing? Why, giving of course.
Mary gave her womb and the next several years of her life to nurture the Christ-child (Luke 1:35-38). Joseph gave up his reputation and plans to take care of Mary and Jesus (Matt. 1:18-25). Imagine the scandal that dogged his life for this decision. The wise men gave up nearly a year of their life trekking across the desert to find the newborn King, then when the star led them to Bethlehem they offered him extravagant gifts (Matt. 2:11). Even the angels get in on the giving-fest as they offered the Messiah in the manger their praise and worship (Luke 2:8-14).
Then there is God, the ultimate giver. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” Christmas is all about the story of a Father who willingly released a Son. A prophecy written by Isaiah about Jesus’ birth some 700 years beforehand states, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The most well-known verse in the Bible rings with the Christmas spirit of giving, “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son…” John 3:16 reminds us. In 2 Cor. 9:15, we read, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
Moreover, think of all that Jesus gave in His rescue mission. He gave up the right to live like God, to look like God, to be treated like God, even to act like God. What a descent. If it’s true that humility is shown by the distance a person of status will travel in meeting with one of little or no status, think of the humility shown by our Lord in leaving the glories of heaven. The Son willingly released His powerful position. The Prince of Heaven became a pauper on earth.
During Christmas I’m reminded afresh how good it feels to give. I love watching the kids’ faces light up when they rip open a neatly wrapped package. At that age they love getting. But as an adult I am realizing the great secret to continual joy is in giving. I don’t know why giving is so gratifying, but it is. Perhaps, it’s because giving is God-like. We are never more like God than when we give. As His image-bearers we are called to copy His giving, to be mini-models of His infinitely large heart. The larger our hearts and the wider our hands, the larger the picture we paint of God’s character. In some mysterious way, giving deepens our capacity for joy.
A few Christmas ago, there was a story that came out of Des Moines, Iowa about this very principle.
“It was a frigid Christmas Eve in Des Moines, Iowa when Jonnie Wright stood on the corner of the street, freezing and anticipating the kindness of strangers. Many cars drove by ignoring him and the cardboard sign he held as he stood shivering in the wet snow. Yet, there were a few compassionate souls who were compelled to stop and share what they could. When they did, the homeless man smiled and returned their gift with a sealed envelope and thanked them.
The Des Moines news reported that one of those who stopped to help Jonnie was a single mother, who asked to remain anonymous. This desperate Jane Doe had only $16 to her name and had no idea how she was going to buy her kids Christmas presents, but she gave anyway. As she handed over her last few dollars to Jonnie, she smiled and replied, “Merry Christmas. God loves you,” as he handed her a sealed envelope in return.
Later that day, Jane Doe opened the envelop and found the following letter:
“Merry Christmas and thank you for your very kind and thoughtful donation. I live in Des Moines, but am not homeless or destitute or without a job. My name is Jonnie and I am a successful business owner. Instead I am here to give thanks to God for the many blessings in my life by paying it forward and honoring those who give”
As the letter unfolded out came a $100 bill. The directions were simple, “Take this gift. Keep it, spend it, pay it forward. Whatever your heart tells you to do.”
At the end of the day, Wright gave away 50 letters worth $1000. Some envelopes had $10 bills while others had $100. The money he collected from the kindness of strangers went to the Bethel Mission, a local emergency shelter in Des Moines. Jane Doe who received the $100 said, “For my family, it reminded everyone what the meaning of Christmas is truly about.”[i]
[i] Laura Terrell, “Man Poses As Homeless to Give Back,” KCCI News, 31 December 2013