This reflection on Christmas was written by Doug Wolter, the Pastor of Children & Education at LaGrange Baptist Church. You can read more from Doug at his blog Life Together.
One of the things I try to teach my children is how to be a “giver” not a “taker.” I teach them this because I know how much I need to grow in this area. Christmas is a great time to capitalize on the issue of giving. And over the years, we’ve tried to do this in practical ways by baking Christmas cookies for others, gathering up old toys and clothes for Goodwill, and making and delivering Christmas baskets to needy families in our community. This is definitely a season of giving. But today I was reminded that perhaps Christmas is less about giving and more about receiving.
On the surface it seems like receiving is easy and giving is hard. But not when it comes to our relationship with God. We naturally want to give something to God to impress Him and make him happy with us. It’s as if there’s an innate desire in us to get God on our side by doing something for Him. If we give our time, our money, our gifts to Him, than he will smile on us. And so, at Christmas time you see people volunteering at soup kitchens and dropping money in the Salvation Army buckets feeling good about themselves because they sense that God is happy with them. Don’t get me wrong. These are good things. But is this what God really wants from us this Christmas?
In Psalm 50:12-13, God says,
If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High.
In the context of these verses we see that Israel is offering to God the sacrifices that he required of them under the old covenant. God was not angry at the fact that they were offering these sacrifices. He commanded them to do so. After all, these sacrifices were pointing to the one and only sacrifice that was coming later. And this sacrifice was given by God himself–the sacrifice of His Son Jesus. So it seems God is rebuking his people for something else. What is it?
Ever since the beginning of civilization, people have fallen into the lie that religion is man reaching up to God instead of God reaching down to man. Just like the people of Israel, we think that God needs our gifts and offerings. But God isn’t impressed with what we give Him. He doesn’t depend on these things, because true religion is not giving to God. It is responding to God with thanksgiving for the grace He has given to us. It is receiving from God, not giving to God.
This Christmas I want to teach my children to be givers. But I also want to teach them to be receivers. I want them to receive the grace of God given to them in the gospel. I want them to receive this King who was willing to come down to them so that they would not have to reach up to Him. I want them to receive Jesus more than anything. I want this for them and for you because of the promise in John 1:12-13:
But to all who received Him (Jesus), to all who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
When we receive from God we learn what it means to give to God and others. In short, we give by receiving. We give out of a thankful heart for the grace we’ve received, and that brings glory to God and good to others.