We all know the feeling. A couple days before Christmas, a neighbour or work colleague gives you a Christmas card or gift. The only problem? They weren’t on your list. You have nothing for them. Now you have to scramble to return the favour, all while making it look like you had planned this all along. The fact is, most of our giving is transactional in nature. We give to those who give to us. We give to those who deserve it, who have earned it all year. Very often, our giving is more akin to trading than actual generosity.
And much to the joy of retailers, we’ve come to believe that all this gift giving (and receiving) will produce greater happiness. The other day I was talking with someone about trading in a $150 gift, for a $300 one saying “I just want her to be happy and like her gift.” Hold on a second, happiness? If that’s what we’re shopping for, we can spend a lot of money and never find it.
In this frenzied and cluttered season, when we dig past Frosty and Santa and the unrelenting advertisements proclaiming that my life is empty without an iPad, we finally make our way to the original event of the birth of Jesus Christ. In the birth of his son, God has given the greatest gift and displayed true generosity. The fall-off-your-seat astonishment of Christmas is that God gave the gift of his son, not to those who were faithful, deserving and good, but to his enemies. Into a dark and hostile world of sin, God gave the gift of Jesus to come and redeem what was broken and restore what was lost because of our sin. Here we see true generosity. Never has a gift so precious been given to recipients so undeserving.
Our usual western celebration of Christmas has somehow become centered on the idea of karma. Do good and you’ll receive good in return. Do bad, and you’ll receive bad in return. Is this not the Santa myth? Toys for those who obey, coal for those who don’t. But the true event of Christmas is not karma-based transactional relationship, but the lavish generosity of God in the giving of his son, the promised Rescuer, to those who least deserve it and will never repay it. This is grace.
Lost amidst the LED-powered version of Christmas is the shocking grace of God in showing such immeasurable kindness to an undeserving world. At Christmas, Christians around the world celebrate that God is not like us, giving gifts to those who deserve it and holding back from those on the naughty list. Instead we celebrate that God is a God of unspeakable grace, who generously gave an undeserving world the gift of his son, to provide a way of life and salvation.
If the stressed-out, shopping mall version of Christmas isn’t bringing you the peace on earth you thought it promised, I’d invite you to join me in enjoying the amazing gift of Christmas: the gift of Jesus himself.