At Christmas time we give and receive presents. I suppose this echoes the gifts that the wise men brought to the infant Jesus. Perhaps, it is an even fainter echo of God’s gift of eternal life to us through his incarnate Son.
Christmas is a reminder of the importance of giving. But we have to learn to give well. It is possible to give for the wrong reasons. We can give coercively, such as when we say to our children, ‘You’ll have to be good if you want that special present for Christmas’.
We may give proudly to parade our generosity to others or make people feel beholden to us in some way. That is bad giving. Being a Christian involves learning to imitate the giving God (Ephesians 5:1). He is not a contractual giver who only gives in order to clinch a deal – ‘I’ll do this for you if you’ll do that for me’. Such a construction undermines the true grace of giving.
But neither is he a ‘Father Christmas’-style giver: one who gives freely yet who demands nothing from us by way of response.
God gives to do us good, not to spoil us like an indulgent parent. He gives lovingly, out of the overflow of infinite giving and receiving in his own divine life – as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God’s giving is costly, disproportionate and extravagant: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).
It cost the Father to give his Son to be despised and rejected by men, and ultimately to be made sin for us on the cross. All he demands from us by way of response is faith – and that itself is a gift he bestows as part and parcel of our salvation (Ephesians 2:8).
Is this not totally disproportionate? God gives us his one and only beloved Son. In return, we give him our trust and he lavishes upon us the extravagant blessing of everlasting life. What can we say but, ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Clearly we cannot match the infinite and unrestrained generosity of the giving God. But Jesus said, ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:8).
Reflecting on the truth of 2 Corinthians 8:9, Miroslav Volf writes, ‘If the presence of the gift-giving Christ makes us rich, rest will replace weariness, and peace will banish unending restlessness.
‘Like the apostle Paul, we will then know the secret of being content whatever the circumstance, “of being well-fed and of going hungry, or having plenty and of being in need” (Philippians 4:12).
‘And like the apostle, we will then give, even if we must work hard to do so and sacrifice what’s rightfully ours (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-24)’. (Free of charge: Giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace, Zondervan, p. 109). For Christians, giving is for life, not just for Christmas. But Christmas is a good time to give.