This Advent, especially as we approach Christmas, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s better to give than to receive.” This is an important idea, one that emphasizes a spirit of giving rather than selfishness. But any Christian has heard it before, so I’m going to offer a different thought for reflection: the best thing that you can do this Christmas is receive. Hear me out.
If you fixate on giving to others this Christmas, you’re likely to miss the fact that you can’t give what you don’t have. You can only offer others the joy of knowing the Christ-child if you yourself know Him. The gift of Christ’s life at Christmas is not something to be pondered only when we’re little children learning the Bible story for the first time or performing in the church pageant. (Although a highlight of my childhood was playing Mary one year!) The fact that our all-knowing, all-powerful Lord became one of us on the first Christmas is something to be re-discovered anew every year. Even as a grownup. Every Christmas He offers each of us the gift of grace, His own life dwelling in our hearts. He freely invites us to share in His divinity by offering us the gift of His humanity.
Will we accept the gift of His grace? He lavishes His blessings on us every day. Will we recognize those gifts and offer our thanks? Will we allow the meaning, purpose, and direction of our lives to be shaped by His will? A will that only can be discerned through communicating with Him through prayer? It’s essential to receive and accept these gifts daily offered to us by Christ with renewed zeal during the Christmas season.
Think about children on Christmas morning. There are several different ways that they can react to their new presents:
1. Demand more presents after the pile that “isn’t big enough” is finished while jealously comparing their presents to siblings’ and friends’.
2. Think they deserve what they got, so the idea of saying thank you never crosses their minds. They completely ignore the giver.
3. Shout for joy at the presents twinkling beneath the tree! Let amazement and gratitude spill from their heart to the hearts of their siblings and parents along with a resolve to be the kind of child deserving of such good gifts.
So often, we behave like these children by our reactions to God’s gifts.
Like the first child, we often demand more of God and refuse to be satisfied by the life He has given us. Think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life before he meets the angel. He finds his ordinary life mediocre and contemplates rejecting God’s first gift to each of us – the gift of life. How often do we jealously compare the life God has blessed us with to the life He has given others? How often do we wish away a particularly challenging time by thinking “someday it will get easier” instead of appreciating the gift of right now? This Christmas, receive the gift of your life exactly as it is right now. Your job right now, just as it is. Your studies right now, just as they are. Your family situation, spouse, children, right now, just as they are. Receive from Christ the gift of the present moment exactly as it is given to you.
Sometimes we are like the second child. We never even stop to consider that God has blessed us, because we assume that everything good is our own doing. We feel entitled to the good things that occur during life and coast through without considering from Whom the good things come. We can be like the nine lepers cured by Christ who went away and never returned to thank Him for the gift of healing. When things are going well, it can be very easy to forget about God. But God doesn’t just want to hear from us when things go wrong. He reaches out to us through Mass, the Sacraments, Scripture, prayer, and those around us. There are so many things He wants to tell us if only we have ears to hear. He wants to be an intimate part of our lives. His will can shape our lives in the best possible way when we are open to it. This Christmas, receive the gift of “tuning in” to the voice of God and His will for your life. Receive His blessings in your life with conscious acknowledgement and a heart full of thanksgiving.
Now the third child. May we all be like that third child! Let us receive the presence of Christ anew this Christmas with shouts of joy! Let us seek to be fully united to Christ at Christmas Mass when we receive Him in Holy Communion. Let’s allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by God’s good gifts – to be completely filled up with His love. And while we can never earn or deserve His love, let’s strive to be the holy person He made us to be, to thank Him for His many blessings. Then, and only then, can His love spill over from us to the world. Then, and only then, will we have something worthwhile to give – the love of Christ overflowing from us into the hearts of others.
This Christmas, before you give anything, make sure you are open to receive.