The season of receiving

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I am not a fan of sentimentalism.

And yet, when it comes to Christmas, I am rather sentimental.

I love this time of year.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

I love listening to (and singing along with) “Winter Wonderland” and “The Christmas Song” (aka Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and “Jingle Bells.”

I love watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” and of course, the best Christmas movie ever, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation!”

I even enjoy rubbing shoulders with crowds in the mall a few days before Christmas.

(I can’t believe I just put that in writing.)

One of my favorite new Christmas traditions is sharing chips and salsa with our congregation after Christmas caroling.

My all-time favorite tradition is eating a slice of my mother’s red velvet cake on Christmas Eve. Of course, red velvet for breakfast on Christmas morning is nice, too. 

As great as these traditions are they have little to do with the birth of Jesus.

Even the so-called season of giving—which started with the magi and their three gifts—ultimately misses the mark.

Many of us enjoy Christmas because our gift-giving and year-end charitable contributions allow us to believe that we are generous people. But shucks, even the stingiest, greediest Scrooge can be a little generous this time of year.   

It is true that Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

But it is also easier to give than it is to receive.

The preacher, Will Willimon, explains: “We prefer to think of ourselves as givers—powerful, competent, 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.”

Advent and Christmas are really about receiving—receiving the love and mercy of a gracious God who “became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:14).

I’m not belittling our giving to those in need (to help those in need is important and holy work), or our tradition of exchanging gifts, or our overly sentimental traditions.

What I am saying is that we are receivers before we are givers.

It is a difficult lesson to learn.

As John Wesley wrote, “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace.”

Life is a gift—from our first breath till our last. 

We are not self-made men and women. We do not possess the cure for what ails us. We are incapable of fixing ourselves.

I am grateful that Advent and Christmas are honest about our place in the world.

~ Jeff Harris, Pastor, First Baptist of Tryon