not about giving

“When giving treats to friends or children, give them what they like, emphatically not what is good for them.” -Gilbert K. Chesterton

“Not as the world gives do I give to you.” -Jesus of Nazareth

Christmas is not about giving.

I know it may sound shocking. Our culture is awash in greed! Mustn’t we wash our hands of it and become givers instead? World peace depends upon it! Why, TV says so. Movie stars say so. Preachers say so. Even Jesus himself said “it is more blessed to give than to receive!”

Television advertisers are particularly good at this sort of thing. After they blast you with ten commercials to incite your avarice, they toss in a sentimental paean to charity to capitalize upon all the guilt which they just seeded. “Be generous”, they say; “Christmas is the special time of year when we remember the importance of giving!”

I’ll tell you why this is mainly empty moralizing (and I’ll explain that Jesus quote in a moment.)

Last week, I filled up a stocking with goods for an anonymous homeless person. I did the same with a shoe box intended for an anonymous foreign seaman visiting our local harbor. My little son was fairly tickled with the idea of charity, as usual, and happy to help. As we finished, I began to eye the battery-powered scooter in the garage. I looked at him and gently explained how there were little boys in our town with no mommies or daddies, who live in a big house all together with a grownup to help them. These little boys don’t have nice toys. You have had the scooter for a few years and are about to outgrow it; we should give it to the other little boys, and it will make them very very happy for Christmas.

On this prospect my son had mixed feelings. I caught the tug of remorse in his voice as I gently reinforced the plan. Soon he acquiesced with apparent good cheer. Later, as we dropped off the whole lot in the church fellowship hall to be delivered, he had another brief moment of sadness as he parted with his scooter. I worried for a moment if my little lesson would be of effect.

That evening, at home near the Christmas tree, he exclaimed petulantly that he wanted to open more of his presents right now. I momentarily considered a gentle chastisement for greed—he had already opened five presents early. Then I caught myself. I was so intent upon teaching him the discipline of generosity (for it is indeed a discipline), I had lost sight of the purpose of Christmas. It is not about giving at all.

Christmas is about getting. It is about opening presents early. Opening presents often. Opening presents late. It is about petulantly whining to the Father to give us more presents, and give them right now (if you disagree, read King David.) Christmas is about lusting for generosity, with a hearty lust. Christmas is all about getting good things. And it’s all about not getting bad things. It’s about getting things which we like, which we otherwise would have not even known were good for us. It’s about getting the gift of having our likes turned toward their proper end. It’s about dancing around in a sea of torn wrapping paper, reveling in the mountain of gifts, eyes wild with glee.

Now, back to that saying of Jesus. When he said “it is more blessed to give than to receive”, we tend to hear his words as the words of the teacher who patiently moralizes, teaching his pupils the discipline of generosity. But that context is secondary. First, we should hear his words as Blessedness itself. It is pointless for us to give until we have first been given unto. His gift is the prime gift—the gift of Word, light, life. His gift makes a pauper weep with embarrassment. His gifts are not holier than material things; they are not more spiritual than consumer goods. His Word created all Matter and defined all Good.

Nobody on earth gives this way! When may we open the next one? Merry Christmas!


~ by mairnealach on December 25, 2006.

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