Giving like it’s Christmas

Published 9:55 am Saturday, November 29, 2014

by Andrew Book

Once we pass Thanksgiving on the calendar many of us turn our focus to Christmas. We start planning parties, singing songs and decorating. But most of all we begin to think about presents. If your house is like ours, then you start talking about what gifts you will be getting for other family members and when you will be shopping. You think about sales and budgets and wrapping paper. However, before we get too deeply into our shopping and gift-giving, I want to encourage you to think about what it means to give like it is Christmas, because the story of Christmas has the chance to truly shape how we give gifts!

Many of us are familiar with the story of Christmas. Christmas is about God giving the greatest gift of all: God’s only son. God sent Jesus into this world as one who would bring new life and new hope to all people, but God also sent him as the child of an unwed mother who could find no other place to have her child than a stable. God sent God’s greatest gift in a humble package to people who had no idea the great gift they were receiving and certainly had no way to pay God back for sending Jesus. Christmas is a celebration of the greatest gift ever given — a gift given with no expectation for something to be given in return and given to people who could not fully understand the gift they were receiving.

The story of gift-giving in scripture does not end with Christ’s birth. The next story in Matthew’s Gospel records the coming of the Magi or Wise Men. Here we have a story of wealthy scholars coming to honor Jesus by giving expensive gifts to a poor family. There is a certain level of irony that Jesus (as the greatest gift himself) was himself given extravagant gifts which his family would never repay or even attempt to repay. The tradition of the church holds that these extravagant gifts provided the resources for Mary and Joseph to flee from King Herod when he sought to kill Jesus. They moved to Egypt for a time, and these gifts made hiding Jesus possible.

We have been celebrating Christmas for two millennia in many different ways, but gift-giving has been a part of our celebration for that entire time. The way that we give gifts, however, has changed. Saint Nicholas, who lived in the third century, has shaped our understanding of the idea of giving gifts. Nicholas was known for his generosity and the stories of his life tell about him giving generously to bless those who had no other way to thrive. They certainly did not pay him back!

Saint Nicholas has served as the namesake for our modern day Christmas hero — Santa Claus. Santa builds upon the great example of Jesus, the Magi and Saint Nicholas by giving gifts to those who have no way of repaying him. The joy of receiving a gift from Santa is rooted in the surprise of a gift that comes with no strings attached (not even a required “thank you” note to a distant relative). Santa’s sleigh is empty at the end of Christmas Eve, because he has left everything and taken nothing (except a cookie or two!).

So, if we are going to give gifts like its Christmas, we need to get to a place where our gifts are selfless and do not come with strings attached. Giving like its Christmas means that we are able to take our eyes off ourselves, what we want others to give us, and how others will respond to us based on what we do (or do not) give them. Giving like its Christmas isn’t about us at all. It is about being a blessing for someone else in a way that has nothing to do with us!

So, as you continue your preparations for celebrating Christmas this year, I hope you will consider how you can best give gifts in a way that has nothing to do with you. How can you be more like Santa, Saint Nicholas, the Magi, and even Jesus himself by giving without expecting anything in return?

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we have found several ways to encourage selfless giving. We have an Angel Tree program, which allows us to purchase gifts for individuals in the community whose families are not able to get presents for them this Christmas. We also create and give away turkey baskets for individuals and families that could use some help creating a celebration for Jesus’ birthday. There are lots of options in our community and around the world — take advantage of them and truly give this Christmas!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or