In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ – Acts 20:35
It is better to give than to receive. How many of us are inundated with that phrase during the “holiday season”? Often we are berated and scolded into the “Christmas spirit.” Needing to show ourselves as being the reformed Scrooge rather than the miser. We should be giving away, giving of ourselves, sharing with the needy and poor, and just being downright merry. I wonder though, for you, where are you on the Christmas barometer? Is your jolliness epic? Have you “decked the halls” and all that jazz? Are you planning the best Covid Christmas yet? We get a second try at this pandemic celebration, so I wonder, what is your holiday hallowing going to entail?
When Paul utters these words in Acts, he is bidding farewell to the leaders of the churches in Ephesus and making his way to Jerusalem where he assumes he will die. He spends time reminding them of his ministry, his message of grace and forgiveness found in Christ, and warned them against false teachers and those who might take advantage of them by expecting gigantic paychecks as pastors and evangelists. Paul spent a great deal of his ministry fighting against the “super apostles” that cropped up in the church. These were men full of pride and seeking prestige who thought themselves to be so awesome that they were better than Paul or anyone else for that matter. And so, when Paul speaks that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” he speaks with these “super apostles” in mind, that as a pastor it was his calling to be spent for them and for Christ, not to be given so much glory and honor as to overshadow the reality of their own sin and need for Christ, let alone those whom they shepherd.
As you come into this Advent to prepare for Christ, I wonder if for this year, as maybe years gone by, you are in need of being the one who receives. Not silver or gold, gifts and chocolate, flowers or attention, but receive the Christ as yours. When Paul quotes Christ, this quote is not found in the Gospel accounts so there is a thought that this is one of those things that John says were not written down.
If this was Jesus speaking to you, one can take it as demand – as Law. “You better give and not receive.” Or…or, if we are a Gospel people (which we are), we can see it as Him speaking to you of something even more grand - “I am the Blessed One, therefore I give to you. I give Myself, My all, for you. I cast aside My God-status to take on flesh for the sole purpose of dying that I may capture you. I give to you that you might receive Me not as a special accessory or a nice story, but an actual gift that frees you from the necessity of being jolly at Christmas time. I free you from the burdens of the Christmas spirit, from the anxieties of finding the right gifts. I free you from the fears you are not loving enough, or not loving the right people. I free you from the fears that you may have of spending Christmas alone (for you are not alone). I free you from the difficulty of families and relationships. I free you from the burdens of past Christmas blunders and future holiday horrors. I free you from all of it because your worth and status in My eyes are not those things but they are Me, your Jesus - the One who has already invaded your world once and I will do it again to come for you as you patiently (and often impatiently) wait for Me. It is more blessed to give than to receive, so I give to you that you may be blessed in me.”
This Advent and Christmas allow yourself to receive the Christ as yours. Be the passive one for once. Don’t lay burdens on yourself or others to make everything perfect, but instead let the Perfect One do what He came to do – to free you. The Child in that manger is yours because He gave Himself to you. Don’t think that you have to pay Him back for that. Don’t think you need to reciprocate anything so that you can be “even.” Rather, be free in Him as one purchased and bought. Then you can be free to give however you feel led without any strings attached or burdens and fears. He is yours…always. HAPPY ADVENT AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!