We have been considering Advent as a time of anticipatory celebration. It is a time of joy, longing, joy, yearning, joy, and preparation. It should not be a time in which you afflict your souls. We do not intend to mark Advent as a penitential season. A penitential season should follow sin, not anticipate deliverance from sin.
But if we emphasize this fact too much, you might start becoming penitential about that. Advent is positive preparation for a positive season. This is a season of joy. So what are we getting ready for? We say no only to prepare for the yes. What is that yes? How do we get ready for that yes? The answer is found in what it means to give.
“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).
Summary of the Text:
If you look at the verse just prior to this one, you see the grand principle, negatively stated. Don’t judge and you won’t be judged (Luke 6:37). But this street is a two-way street, and the culmination of the principle is found in the giving.
Give and it will be given to you. How will it be given to you? The answer is that it will be given to you in great abundance. Men will pour into your chest, meaning that they will fill up your arms. It will be a good measure, pressed down and shaken together, but overflowing anyway. You will be holding the blessing, and standing in the excess.
We are therefore to give in order to receive. We are to give a lot in order to receive a lot. But we are not trying to game the system, figuring out the right time to leave the casino with all our swag. We want to give in order to receive in order that we might be able to give again. The reason we should want to receive is so that we might be able to continue to fund a life of generosity. We give in order to get in order to be able to give again.
Once a Year . . .
Once a year our shops and malls fill up to overflowing with crowds of people who are all out looking for gifts to give to other people. Now why do we treat this as a problem? What on earth would make us think this is a consumerist hell on earth, instead of treating it for what it is—a good start? They are acting wiser than they know. They need to be told about Jesus, certainly, but let us play the ball where it lays. How did Paul speak of pagan idolaters? Their groping was so that “they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27). If he spoke that way about pagans, why are our hearts so closed up against all the semi-Christian shoppers?
God Is an Ultimate Giver:
As dearly loved children, we are to be imitators of God. The God we are to imitate is a giving and generous God. We can see this glorious truth in one of the most famous verses of Scripture. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
When God urges us to give, He does so in a way that says we should go big or go home. When we give outlandishly, we should be doing it in imitation of Him. When the infinite God gave the sin-darkened world a present, He did it by giving us the present of Himself. God so loved the world that He gave us Himself.
If God had given us ten thousand mines filled with gold, He could have given us more than that. He could have given eleven thousand. If God had given us ten galaxies, He could have given us more than that. He could have given twelve galaxies. If He had given us charge of all the seraphim and cherubim, He could have given us more than that. He could have thrown in the archangels. But instead of all that He gave us Himself. There was no possible gift that could be greater than that. How could God have given us more?
The World is Made of Seed:
If an outlandish gift is given instead of giving yourself, the more extreme it is the more foolish it is. And if a tiny gift is given as a token that represents giving yourself away, then it is received as a universal kind of generosity. This is what was behind the Lord’s praising of the widow who gave away her two small coins. “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (Mark 12:42, ESV). Jesus said that she gave all that she had, all her living (v. 44). This means she was giving her life away. This means that the poorest of the poor can still imitate God. Imitate Him in the percentages, not in the amounts. Copy God in the ratios, and not simply in terms of the amount on the check.
When God gave Himself away, what did God receive back again? He received the cosmos back as His inheritance. Jesus received the nations as a gift because He had given Himself away as a gift. The pattern that God wants us to follow is a pattern that He Himself followed.
The world is made of seed, and the whole earth is fertile. We can give anything away, and if we give it away in the right frame of mind and heart, what we have given is seed. Anything—time, jewelry, electronics, toys, equipment, tools, conversation, or furniture—is seed.
“But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6).
So Then, a Brief Theology of Christmas Presents:
So you are doing your shopping during Advent. You are thinking about the presents you are getting for others, and that should fill your mind . . . at least more than the presents you are hoping to get.
- You are to give in imitation. You are an imitative giver. Your gifts are derivative, which means that you also imitate the verb that brings the gift to you.
- Your gifts are to represent you, not replace you.
- Those things which do represent you are to be given away.
- In order to give properly, you must be eager to receive back again.
- You give in order to take your rightful place in the process, seedtime and harvest, looking toward the return that is 30, 60, or 100 fold.
- Do not sneer at the material things surrounding Christmas. Consumer goods are simply instruments for loving other people.
As John Bunyan put it in The Pilgrim’s Progress once: “a man there was, though some did count him mad, the more he cast away the more he had.”
And this is because Christ cannot be successfully given away. The more you give Him away, the more you have of Him. God gave Christ, and through that giving He did not lose Christ. And we, as we imitate God, cannot lose Christ either. If you let go of ego, selfishness, pettiness, you lose them. This is what true repentance is. But if you have Christ, and you give Christ away, the only possible result is that you have a greater and deeper experience of more Christ.