Christmas Getter or Giver?

Christmas shopping! Readers of this magazine will probably fit neatly into one of three categories. There will be those who have been gathering potential presents all year, or at least since the beginning of autumn. Then, secondly, there will be those who will have been purchasing gifts throughout the Christmas season, right up until the 23rd December. And then, finally, there are the men. Whichever is true for you, Christmas is indeed a time of giving – to open up the purse or wallet and give away. For the mature, if we receive some nice things too, well, that’s just a bonus.

Long before Good King Wenceslas had ever looked out on anything, the Apostle Paul wrote these words, and you probably won’t find them on a Christmas card this year: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11). You’ll know this verse quite well, especially if you are a frequenter of weddings. But it begs the question: What does it mean to think like a child and how do we know when we have become a man?

Perhaps one key difference between a child and a man can be found in the varying attitude to giving and Christmas is a good example of this status quo: Children take, adults give. It reminds me of the story from the Cavanna archives of my brother Simon who, returning to school after the summer holidays, asked his mother if she had all of his Christmas presents yet. When she answered no, pointing out that it was only September, he left disappointed, only to return a few minutes’ later to ask, “Well, have you got most of them yet?” Clearly, when it came to Christmas time, no one needed to preach to my brother about having an enlarged capacity.

As a smaller Cavanna in short-trousers and basin haircut, I also loved Christmas. It was the grand “I get things” day of the year: a time when Father Christmas, or whoever it was, would show up on the 24th, eat the mince pie in exchange for a room full of breath-taking presents, and dash off without leaving the bill. A half written note to Santa before an early night, and in the morning I would have my Dalek. What a deal! Today, some thirty years later, I have grown out of those short trousers, indeed most trousers, and am cutting the silver pieces out of my hair. But more has changed than that. Now that I am older, the Christmas deal from life’s Mr Banker is very different. I get to eat the mince pie for sure but there’s no-one coming to grace the house with gifts. I am Father Christmas now.

This change from boy to man – from ‘getter’ to giver – has to occur. Time demands it and we can’t fight it. But in other areas of our life we can continue to indulge in the immaturity of merely taking. Drawing from Paul’s spiritual analogy, there were some at Corinth who were still behaving like children and perhaps even today, we have many “children” in our churches. For years, they have worshipped, clapped, tithed and even retired, but they have not spiritually matured into servant-hearted givers. Some flitter from church to church because they “don’t get much out of this” instead of asking the question: “What can I put into this?” Still others have spent so long working out what their gifting is that they are too old to put it to prolonged use. A real shame. They are a wonderful present from the real Father of Christmas to the Body of Christ, but one that refuses to ever be unwrapped. Biology and time will age us all but only a yielding over of our lives to the Holy Spirit and God’s Word will mature us and mould us into serving believers, useful to the Master and effective in His hand.

Let me encourage you, as we approach the time of fresh resolutions in January, to commit to putting any childish consumerism behind you in 2009. Instead of looking for a gift why not be a gift? If your church is like most, it is not crying out for even more hungry Christian dinner guests but for extra help in the kitchen! Why not approach your leadership team and ask them how you can help in the year ahead? Tell them what skills and time you could make available and make a difference! Perhaps even find out where the church hoover and toilet cleaner are kept, or join the stewarding team. It’s time to choose to grow up. Oh, and giving is for life, not just for Christmas.

JOY Magazine, December 2008

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