Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Time To Receive

Christmas is a time to receive.

How’s that?  Isn’t it a time to give?

Yes, and that is very important, but let’s think about receiving. For many of us receiving is harder than giving.  When you get that gift from someone who was not on your giving list, how do you feel?  How about when the gift you get is bigger than the gift you gave?  When someone unexpected gives you something you always wanted?  When the gift shows that the giver knows your wishes better than you’d ever have guessed?  What goes through your mind at such times?

Think of the words that come to our lips as we open presents.  “You shouldn’t have.”  “This is really too much.”  “I don’t need [or deserve] all this.”  “You shouldn’t make such a fuss over me.”  Even if we don’t actually say those things, we may think them, often because we don’t dare believe that someone would give us a gift just because they love us.

Yet the center of Christmas is the proclamation that in Christ God has done just that.  The Advent scripture readings all speak of the importance of receiving.  John the Baptist announces that God is about to send a messenger, and we should prepare to receive him.  Mary is visited by the Archangel Gabriel, who asks her to receive the Christ Child.  Joseph is counseled in a dream to receive the infant Jesus as if he was his own.  Jesus, throughout his adult ministry, urges those who hear him to receive God’s love through his words and deeds.  From the angel’s appearance to Mary, to Jesus’ farewell following the resurrection, to the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the emphasis is on God’s call to receive his gift to us in Christ.

This is because a gift must be received before it can be complete.  When the gift is received, the receiver can in turn become a giver, returning service to God as an act of thanksgiving, and the circle is closed.  God’s perspective seems to be that before we can give in the right spirit we must first learn how to receive.

This year, practice being a receiver.  Avoid such words as, “You shouldn’t have,” or “That’s too much.”  Instead, practice the simple words, “Thank you very much,” and see how that changes Christmas.  Allow your receiving of presents, or greetings, or meals, or courtesies to be practice for receiving the greatest of the gifts: Jesus Christ.  As for your Christmas giving, let it be practice for offering yourself year-round as an expression of the love of Christ.

Howard MacMullen
© December, 2012

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