Giving and Receiving

“It is more blessed to give than to receive” seems to be the general assumption among those who have relative material prosperity.  It certainly is a joy to give.

On a recent Mother’s Day, my 7-year-old granddaughter persuaded her dad to take her to the store so she could pick out presents for her mother.  She knows what her mother likes, and she enjoys giving gifts.  Giving also can be not in material things but in giving of oneself.  Some share professional knowledge and do helpful things such as developing a system to monitor and maintain precious wells that provide water for communities whose water-needs shape their lives.  Some, as teachers, give their creativity and energy to draw out the best from students.  Some give to others a listening ear and a sense of being loved and important.  There are so many ways to give oneself.

Some people are very willing to give to others, but never acknowledge any need themselves and therefore avoid the experience of receiving.   I think receiving is a gift in itself.  When I took my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education in a local hospital, I was given a badge that included my name and the title of chaplain.  That badge meant that I was received by people and allowed to give the services I already was able to give but had had no place where those gifts could be received.  I was very grateful for the badge.  Both giving and receiving are important.

The ultimate gift we celebrate at Christmas is the birth of Jesus.  We have been given stories about his birth, ministry, death and resurrection.  But unless we are enabled to receive the meaning of these stories, we, like many before us, miss the gift.

Queries:

What is your experience of giving and receiving?  In what way might you be called to do more of one or the other than you have been doing?

Who is Jesus for you?  What is the gift of Christmas for you, if any?

Prayer:

For persons who are homeless, for newborn babies, for young families, for people who are traveling, for peace and goodwill to all we pray.  Let us see the star.  May we receive your gift of love.

For further reflection:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (See John 4: 1-26).

“Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (See John 16: 24).

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Anticipation

Thinking at this time of year about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I wonder what it was like for a woman to be pregnant in those days.  Would Mary have been fearful, anticipating trouble and even the possibility of dying, or would she have been excited, anticipating the new life and wondering what this baby would be like?  I feel virtually certain she never anticipated watching this expected child die by crucifixion.

Anticipation is a tricky thing.  The free and open delight of anticipation is a joy.  I have a photograph of my then two-year-old son watching for the coming of a fireman’s parade.  His face radiates presence and joy.  He had no particular expectations or attachment to what had to happen.  He was just into it.

On the other hand, we can focus so much on what is to come that we miss what is happening in the present.  We can also anticipate negative things, being fearful and anxious, trying to hold onto control, struggling with perfectionism.  This kind of anticipation steals life and squashes the possibility of joy.  Of course, it can be a fact that hard things will happen.   Yet even in such circumstances one can find a peace that allows one to live in anticipation, not of what is to come, but in each moment with the presence and joy that is possible.

At Christmas time it matters what we anticipate.  Anticipating (maybe expecting) happy children and wonderful presents, or too much to do, family feuds, and food you don’t eat will color the whole season.  What we expect to happen usually misses the mark.  What would it be like if we let go of anticipation characterized by expectations, fears, and controlling, and with openness and wonder anticipated Christ’s coming, within ourselves or around us?

Queries:

What is anticipation like for you?

What is the meaning of Christmas for you?  Does it, or could it, include life-giving anticipation?

Prayer:

Take time in the busyness of this season to reflect on your experience of Christmas and make room for the New One to be born.

For further reflection:

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. . . .” (See Isaiah 40: 3-5.)

“The shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place. . . .” (See Luke 2: 8-20.)

Expectations

In Luke’s Christmas story Zechariah didn’t expect to meet an angel as he was doing his priestly duties, and he didn’t expect that an angel would speak to him. Only becoming unable to talk let him, and others, realize that something special had indeed happened to him. In Matthew’s story Joseph didn’t expect to marry someone who was already pregnant. But he was able to hear the angel and accept what he was told; he went ahead after all and married Mary.

The Christmas season is a time of many expectations. We expect that we can make or buy the perfect gift for everyone on our list, we can do all the extra work that decorating and preparing for the holiday calls for, and we will be together with family members and everyone will get along and be happy. I may expect that my husband will get me something really special and thoughtful. We will do everything the way it has always been done. Or maybe the expectation is to do something different this time, which surely will please everyone. Whatever the expectations, our egos get a workout. Stress levels soar.

Meanwhile, if an angel were to speak to us, we probably would take no notice. Maybe because we would be too busy, maybe because we don’t believe in angels, or maybe because we wouldn’t listen since the word most likely wouldn’t fit into our agenda. And we fail to receive the true gifts of Christmas—light, love, hope, faith, joy, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, new life.

As long as my mother was alive my family celebrated Christmas in much the same way, year after year. But now everything is different, and I can spend a lot of energy longing for some parts of how it used to be. In the remaining days of the Christmas season, I hope I can let go of my door-closing expectations and open to be able to experience wonder, surprise, joy. Everything won’t be smooth or familiar. But I can expect that Christ will be present. I hope I will notice.

Queries:

What memories of Christmas are particularly meaningful to you? Or maybe particularly painful?

What expectations do I need to let go in order to let God/Christ/the Holy Spirit be at work in me this Christmas?

Sometimes the expectation that Christmas will be meaningful is an expectation that closes doors. What would it take to let go of even that?

Prayer:

Sing your favorite Christmas carol. Listen to the Messiah. Find time to be quiet.

For further reference:

“And he shall stand and feed his flock . . . and he shall be the one of peace” (See Micah 5: 2-5a).

“And blessed is she who believed [trusted] that there would be a fulfillment . . .” (See Luke 1: 45).

Baby Jesus

The gospel writers Matthew and Luke tell stories of the birth of Jesus. It is my contention that they do so in order to help their readers apprehend that Jesus is, and was always, the Messiah (or the Christ), the one who makes all things new—and why that is good news. I believe that stories are important and contain Truth whether or not everything in them actually happened. This Christmas season as I listen again to this story I am listening for where its Truth connects with my story and brings the possibility of new life to me.

I love that the One we worship comes among us as a baby. How intimate and personal, ordinary and vulnerable! I see that being little and humble leaves more space for God to be present and at work than does being important, proudly virtuous, or hierarchically powerful. I see that with God all things are possible. Closed doors and brick walls and what-shouldn’t-be need not be the final word.

This story awakens me to the possibility that I might meet Christ in anyone, that I am wise to be open to the unexpected instead of holding on to how it has always been, that I haven’t figured out where Christ will be and need not box Him out of unlikely places. In this political season I am delighted by the details in this story that suggest that the power, misdeeds, or regulations of government cannot prevent Christ’s coming. This story invites me to risk and vulnerability rather than control.

The shepherds and the wise men find the Christ Child.  Those who have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts that are tender can find and recognize the Holy One. I pray to be prepared to receive the Gift that God has given.

Queries:

What do you need to let go inwardly in order to have room for God’s Love Gift?

What keeps you from recognizing or receiving the Christ Child?

What insights come to you from this story?

Prayer:

Think of a person or persons or a set of circumstances that you will encounter this Christmas season. Pray that you might see the Light that shines in the midst of your experiences. Pray that you might encounter the Christ Child, and that if you do, you might recognize and receive Him.

For further reflection:

See Matthew’s account of Jesus’s birth—Matthew 1: 18 – 2: 12.

See Luke’s account—Luke 2: 1-20.

For other people who recognize who the child Jesus is, see Luke 2: 25-38.