Have you ever wondered why do we give gifts to one another at Christmas? After all, it's not our birthday. Well, giving gifts has become a tradition because that is what we see people do when they encounter Jesus. The most famous verse in the Bible says, "For God so loved the world He gave..." John 3:16. Our God is a giver, and we are like God when we give.
Mary gave her womb to Jesus. Both her and Joseph gave their plans, dreams and lives to Jesus. The angels gave their song to Jesus. The Magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. When you encounter Jesus, you must respond. You must give. The call to give your life, your heart, your love, your worship. Give.
When asked what is the most important commandment (out of the 613 laws in the Old Testament), Jesus responded, "The most important one...is this: ...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself..." (Mark 12:30-31) When you love, you want to give. You want to give to God and you want to give to others. You can give without loving - people do it all the time by simply writing a check and not thinking twice about it - but, you cannot love without giving. When you love, giving flows out of you.
And, I see it. Especially this time of year. The Joy of Generosity. The smiles. The overflowing expressions.
Last night I saw it at the mall. Not on the faces of those frantic shoppers scurrying about just trying to find something because they felt an obligation, but in the faces of those who were serving or encountering Jesus. Our church offers a Wrapping Station every year in the middle of a major shopping mall in our community. Staffed completely with church volunteers, we wrap gifts starting on Black Friday and ending Christmas Eve - for free. Last year, we wrapped over 27,000 gifts! It is a massive undertaking, but it is a labor of love and a way for us to give back to our community at Christmas.
People's reactions are priceless. They come to the wrapping station exhausted, overwhelmed and weighed down with boxes and debt. Yet, when they realize that it is a free service we're offering and they see the smiles on the faces of our volunteers, they encounter Jesus and begin to change. They smile as they open up about their lives. They talk about their family, friends and travel plans. They even open up about where they are spiritually, their need for Christ and for prayer. After their presents are wrapped, many ask how they can give back. And since we don't take money, they repay us in thank-you's, hugs and/or promises to pay it forward.
Besides those whose gifts we wrap, I also encounter the Joy of Generosity in our Wrapping Station volunteers. As they serve, they glow. They pour their heart and energy not simply into wrapping a present, but into knowing they are giving back and making a difference. I also encounter it in the singers who stay late to rehearse Christmas music many nights in a row because they want to give praise to God and to give the joy of Christmas to others. I see it in the people who take Angel Trees and buy gifts for needy families. I see it as people bring gifts for the orphan children they sponsor through JMI. I see this joy of generosity everywhere.
I believe this is why financial giving is so high in December. Most churches and non-profits see 20-30% of their charitable gifts coming in in the month of December. I don't think it is simply for a tax-break (although, you can give without loving), but I think it is because this is the time of year when people encounter Jesus. You hear Christmas carols in malls and restaurants, you see Nativities in front yards, you see people ringing bells and collecting money for the poor. Everywhere you look, you see Jesus. And, what results is generosity. God gave to us, and we identify with Him when we give.
As we mature in our relationship with God, we grow in our giving. Generosity is a great gauge for our spiritual health. Evaluate your own heart and life to see how true this is. When we are drifting from God we definitely become more selfish and anxious. But, when we are drawing close to God, we have a desire to give back to Him in tithes, offerings and worship as well as to see needs around us and to give to others.
C.S. Lewis titled his autobiography, "Surprised by Joy." When you meet God, joy follows. When you give to Him and to others, joy erupts in your own life. That is why we give at Christmas. We give praise to the God who gave His own Son for us. We give to others because we love them, and we want them to know. And, as we give - we grow. Our hearts grow bigger and our spiritual life grows deeper. We demonstrate our trust in God, and we fall more in love with the One who loves us so much. Therefore, let's be generous. Stay up late and write the cards, buy the gifts, make the cookies to take to the neighbors, write the check to God's work and give to those you know who are in need. I guarantee that in the process of giving, you will encounter Jesus - and what will erupt in you is joy! "For God so loved the world, He gave..." And, the angels sang. Joy has come!
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