Monday, December 17, 2018

What makes a good gift? Part II

In the our last post I argued that a "good gift" is one which invites the recipient to move into a closer relationship with the giver. This invitation to relationship demonstrates the value that the gift-giver has for the recipient, and that value is integral to the happiness that comes with receiving the gift.  These dynamics of "invitation" and "demonstration of value" are present in the smallest of gifts (a child's art project given to a parent) and the largest (an engagement ring).

From that starting place, our questions today are: How do the above principles of "invitation" and "demonstration of value" play out at Christmas and in the gospel? And what might they mean for us as gift-givers and disciples of Christ?

First, Christmas is the celebration of God's gift to us: Jesus Christ, the very embodiment of God. The gift of the infant Jesus was driven by God's desire to be in right relationship with us... In fact, the gift of God's presence itself created the means for the relationship to develop. Note here that the gift is obviously given in expectation of a return: God expects humans to respond to his initiation of relationship by giving themselves in return to know, follow and love Jesus.

Second, we often hear in descriptions of the gospel that the gift of God's grace is "free" or "unconditional." While it is true that God's grace (more concretely, the gift of Christ's death on our behalf) cannot be earned and is given without any prior conditions, it not "unconditional." The gift is given with an expectation of a return. Humans are to respond to the gift by moving closer to God relationally, namely, by surrendering their lives to Jesus and giving him their loyalty and obedience. The gift of God given through the death of Jesus is the ultimate gift, as it gives the highest possible value to the recipient- the value of the life of God's Son- in order to create the possibility of reconciliation in the relationship between God and humans.

If we understand God's gift-giving at Christmas and in the gospel of Jesus we can come to a few conclusions about our own gift-giving and discipleship:

1. The greatest gifts we can give require giving of ourselves. In other words, if our gifts are to be significant they will mean giving time, energy, empathy and attention to the recipient. We imitate Christ when we give of ourselves to another. Of course, this can be very inconvenient, messy and costly, which is why it is also uncommon. I challenge all of us to take time to consider how we will be open (or to pray for the grace to be open!) to deepen relationships with the people who will receive gifts from us. If we can't be open to deepening those relationships, both theoretically and logistically, then we might ask why we're giving them gifts...

2. A fitting celebration of Christmas is all about our acceptance of God's invitation to deepen our relationship with Him. We can go through all the trappings and churchy events of Christmas, but if we're to busy to actually take this invitation to move closer to God then our celebration is hollow. Can we put our surrender to Jesus' will (what would make for a good celebration in His eyes?) ahead of our expectations (demands!) and desires for our Christmas celebrations?

3. The task of a disciple is to imitate the master. The primary method that Jesus used for making disciples was giving of himself. Before any teaching, training or directing Jesus gave of himself to the people God sent Him to. The very foundation of His mission was His presence; Jesus was constantly sacrificing in order to be present and give His time, energy, attention and empathy to His people.

If we claim to be Jesus' disciples, then we too are called by God make disciples. I believe our first question in that process is, "Who am I sent to?" After we answer that- and before anything else- our task is follow Jesus' example and begin giving of ourselves to that group of people. It is our job to demonstrate their value, and invite them into relationship, through the gifts of our time, energy, empathy and attention. May all of us disciples of Jesus take this Christmas lesson, that God's work begins with sacrificial giving, and boldly give of ourselves to the people God has sent us to through this Christmas season and into the new year ahead.

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