This time of year we talk a lot about the importance of giving. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," right? (Acts 20:35) We give at Christmas because of what we were given in the incarnation -- the beautiful mystery of God With Us. And so we take care of those in need. We think of ways to demonstrate our love for friends and family through gift-giving.
Unfortunately, this is a teaching that can get twisted. Instead of emphasizing the goodness of giving, it can become an indictment on receiving. It turns into, "YOU are better if you give than if you receive."
But receiving is the other side of giving. Just because one is better doesn't mean the other isn't good. And I'm learning that it's important to be able to do both well.
* * * * *
We're wrapping up almost two months of living in a furnished apartment across town from our home. We brought only the essentials with us and packed everything else in a pod. We have spent our evenings and weekends cozily and simply: swimming at the complex's indoor pool, feeding the ducks at the park across the street, watching Christmas movies by the light of our tiny potted Christmas tree.
Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of people have been working hard on our house, bringing about Something Wonderful. Making it accessible. Making it practical. Making it beautiful. And all for us. Next week, we will get to see our home for the first time since we moved out, and I have no doubt it will be overwhelming.
I was talking to a friend about this incredible experience recently and she shared that her hope for me is that I will be able to really receive this great gift.
She knows that receiving isn't always easy. It takes a humble admission that you can't always be the one giving. It takes vulnerability to the goodwill of others and a willingness to fully enjoy without trying to repay. Not exactly strengths of mine.
* * * * *
My favorite Christmas scripture has always been the last verse of the nativity story I read every year. It comes right after the description of how the shepherds reacted to encountering the angels and then finding the baby Jesus: they ran all over the place, telling everyone who would listen. Then the author, Luke, writes, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19).
She had just come through the strangest year of her life. Angels and pregnancy and displacement and the Son of God. It was all too big to wrap her mind around. And what did she do? She received it. She treasured it up and thought about it without fully understanding it.
Next week, when I walk up to and through that house in the presence of our loved ones and of the people who worked so tirelessly to bring this about, I want to have a heart like Mary's. I want to receive this thing that is so much bigger than me. I want to treasure the love behind it. I want to ponder the effects of radical generosity, truly taking it in so that it makes me a different kind of giver.