On Christmas Day 2015, I was in a nearly deserted restaurant at the Denver airport. Three other women, also by themselves, were having lunch. I was on my way to Milwaukee, where I grew up, to attend the funeral of my dearest friend’s brother. We had grown up together; his death was unexpected. Although I had made plans to have Christmas dinner with another friend and her family, I must admit I was feeling very sorry for myself because I was missing so many of my own family’s celebrations.
After getting more depressed at seeing all of the happy faces staring back at me from the pages of the Idaho Statesman, I decided I had had enough. I asked the server if I could pay not only for my meal but also for the meals of the other patrons in the restaurant. She told me how it could be accomplished. I paid for everyone and gave the server the largest tip I’d ever given. On my way out of the restaurant, I wished each woman a “Merry Christmas”. By the time I got to my gate and thought more about what I had just done, I was positively giddy with happiness.
Although I arrived late for Christmas dinner due to wrangling with the airline as a result of their destroying a brand-new piece of luggage, it was a wonderful evening full of laughing children, good food and joyful conversation. When I finally checked in at the hotel, the front desk clerk asked if I was in Milwaukee to be with family for Christmas. When I told him the reason why I was there, he asked that his sympathies be extended to my friend.
Early on the morning of the 27th, I went to check out of the hotel. A different staff member was at the front desk and he looked at me rather quizzically when I handed him my credit card. The amount owning on my account was zero dollars. I argued with him for a while, telling him that it wasn’t possible. I asked him to please check with the manager, but it was too early for the manager to be in. I told him I didn’t want that hotel company to come after me for skipping out on an obligation. I said I would leave a check for what I thought I owed. After a while, when he would not budge, I left and hoped that I wouldn’t get a threatening “lawyer letter” demanding payment or worse, a summons to appear in a Milwaukee County court.
When I had a chance to reflect, I realized that my reactions were so different when I was the giver of a gift than when I was the recipient. It was easy to make the decision to pay for the meals of the other women and leave a nice tip. I enjoyed wishing each woman a “Merry Christmas” when I knew, that in just a few minutes, they’d find out that they owed nothing. But when I was the recipient of an act of kindness, I argued and thought of every reason why it was not possible.
A few days ago, we celebrated God’s gift of the Christ Child to each of us. Although the time of that birth was not known, Isaiah foretold the coming event. In Isaiah 9: 6 -7, we hear that “unto us a Child is born, unto us a son is given . . . Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” God is not only promising to freely give us the Christ Child but also a realm in which God’s people will live in peace. In the Gospel of John, we read that God’s love for us and this world was so great that God gave us “his one and only son . . . not to condemn the world but to save the world.” John 3:16. This gift of Love from God, freely and joyfully given, is ours.
Yet, do we accept this gift of Love? The Gospels are replete with stories of Christ being rejected, turned away, and ultimately put to death. Egil Hovland, a Norwegian composer, wrote a gorgeous choir anthem, “The Glory of the Father”, based on John 1:14. In the most solemn part of the anthem, we hear that God’s gift of Christ to His own children was rejected: “ . . . and His own, and His own received Him not.”
We are constantly being told that giving is what we should do. How often during stewardship season do we hear that “the Lord loves a cheerful giver” or “it is more blessed to give than receive.” At Christmas time in particular, our mailboxes are full of appeals from worthy and societally important organizations, imploring us to give to a desperately needy cause. We give because it is important to do so – and it makes us feel good to help others.
But it is also important to receive. Not grudgingly, as I did, but with joy. Each of us has been given the most precious Gift of all, the Gift of God’s Love born in a lowly manger. Let us live our lives with gratitude and the knowledge that God’s great Love is for each of us – all we need do is say “thank you.”
Let us pray...
Dear Lord, we thank you for the Gift of your dear Child, Christ our Lord. Help us to receive your Gift of Love with joy and extend that Love to all whom we meet. Amen.