It is commonly accepted, maybe even expected, that people should be compassionate during the Christmas season. It is a sociological fact that they are. People tend to do more, give more, and help others more during the month of December than at any other time of the year.
Part of the reason for this is that we have a plethora of more convenient opportunities to do so during this holiday season. For example, most of us will have given money to the Salvation Army by the end of December, simply because there was someone ringing a bell on a corner or at a grocery store as we walked by.
It is good that we’re so willing to show compassion and generosity during the holidays. We have witnessed this same type of outpouring when so many people responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to hurricanes and other natural disasters over the past decades.
But our acts of compassion shouldn’t be limited to just the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas or to patriotic fervor in response to a terrorist attack or as a response to natural disasters. We are made in the image of God to show “Christmas compassion” year-round. As His followers we should have a generous, merciful, compassionate spirit year-round.
With that in mind consider Matthew 2:1–12, the account of the wise men visiting Jesus in Bethlehem. Although they came two years after Jesus was born, their focused determination and praise is very instructive regarding deliberate, demonstrated compassion.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
God is generous
God is generous year-round and on all occasions. We should be too. The inspired Apostle Paul recognized this and wrote in Ephesians 5: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” To “walk in love” is to live all of life showing the love with which God loved us towards God but especially towards others.
Uniquely, the Wise men demonstrated this godly love for the newborn King in their gifting. As you’re buying gifts this Christmas, keep the following considerations in mind and, with God’s help, begin to apply “Christmas compassion” and generosity to your life in January, February, March, and throughout the year.
Give more than you expect to receive
Let’s take a look at each one. First of all, when you give … Give more than you expect to receive.
When the wise men came to see Jesus, they knew they weren’t going to a “gift exchange.” They were going to see a child, a newborn baby. They were visiting a child who was, quite literally, born in an enclosure for animals. His parents were poor; the possibility of reciprocation did not exist. And, of course, the wise men did not care. They came to give, not receive.
What they were aware of was that God had been generous enough to include them and let them know of His wonderous birth. They were coming to worship the newborn King. And, evidenced in their giving, yet unknown to them, they lived what Jesus had shared with the Apostles. In the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts 20:35: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
There are situations where hard feelings develop in families because someone didn’t get back as much as they put in. They felt cheated. Understand: when it comes to giving, you can’t be cheated if you have God’s attitude of love and service.
John 3:16 reads, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God cared enough to give the very best! There is no commodity that could ever match the price paid by the blood of Jesus Christ for the world, for you! There is no power that can match the effect of what the blood of Jesus has done for us. The goal in giving is to give more than you get back. Please go back and read Ephesians 5:1– 2.
Maybe you have heard the story of what one person suggested to her family: “Let’s give each other the same gift this year — $20 cash. When it comes time to open the presents, we’ll take the $20 bill we brought, hand it to the person next to us. They’ll take the $20 bill they brought and hand it to the person next to them, and so on all the way around the room. That way, everybody gets a fair deal. Everyone walks in with $20 and walks out with $20, and everyone is happy.” She was joking, of course, but there are probably some people who like that idea. Equity is not what giving is about.
James Hewitt tells a story of a college friend named Paul who received a car from his brother for Christmas! A kid on the street saw his new car and said, “Hey mister, is that yours?” Paul said, “Yes, my brother gave it to me for Christmas.” The kid was amazed and said, “Your brother gave it to you and it didn’t cost you nothing?” The kid then said, “Boy I wish…” and Paul thought he was going to say, “I wish I had a brother like that.” But the street kid surprised him. He said, “Boy, I wish I could be a brother like that.”
Me, too. There is a tremendous reward in giving. Give more than you expect to get.
Give out of love, not out of obligation
Secondly, we also learn from the wise men to Give out of love, not out of obligation. Notice what Matthew says … “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11).
Have you ever received a gift from someone with the impression that the gift was given more out of duty than desire? And if they really had a choice, they wouldn’t have given you anything at all? Have you ever given a gift with (that) “attitude?” That’s not “giving a gift,” it’s “paying a bill.” When you give with that attitude people can usually tell.
The Bible teaches us to give out of love. In addressing the Corinthian church on this matter Paul writes, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). He gives further clarity when, in the preceding chapter of 2 Corinthians (another chapter about loving and giving), he writes of the Macedonians: “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Corinthians 8:5).
I read about a woman who had a fight with her sister two years previous and, even though they’re still not on speaking terms, they exchange gifts each year at Christmas! When asked why, “Why?” she responded, “Because we give gifts to everyone in our family.” Obviously, this gift has very little meaning and very little value. The gift she really needs to give is the gift of reconciliation.
It is as simple as this: if your gift isn’t motivated by love, it doesn’t matter what the gift costs. It is, in effect, worthless before the Lord. The wise men’s gifts were special, not because they were valuable, but because they were given with a heart full of respect, love, and honor for Jesus.
A number of years ago, Pennsylvania’s former Governor Tom Ridge, who became the first Homeland Security Chief, sent out $100 rebates on school-district property taxes to Pennsylvania’s residents. (This happened just before the election, so naturally he was accused of trying to buy votes.) However, hundreds of taxpayers responded in an unexpected way: they returned the money to school districts. The Philadelphia school district alone received more than $40,000 in ‘rebate gifts.’ The most interesting part of this is that the majority of gifts came from people outside the Philadelphia school district, who felt the under-funded city schools needed the money more than their suburban schools. These people had nothing to gain by sending their money to another school district. They did it because they cared (Newsweek, Dec.11, 2000, p.64). Give out of love and heartfelt determination and care, not obligation.
Give gifts that tell people what they’re worth
The third consideration for giving is the most difficult because it is deliberate, contemplative, and somewhat time consuming: Give gifts that tell people what they’re worth. Matthew writes … “They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, and of incense, and of myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).
Interesting gifts for a child, aren’t they? Could these gifts have special meaning? According to the customs of the day …
- gold was the gift for a king;
- incense was the gift for a priest; and
- myrrh was the gift for one who was to die—it was used to embalm the bodies of the dead.
When the wise men brought their gifts to Jesus, they didn’t come bearing trinkets for a child. They brought gifts that indicated who He truly was—the king of kings, the great high priest, the one who would die for the sins of the world. Did they fully understand this or were their actions completely inspired by the Holy Spirit … or a little of both? I don’t know. Nonetheless, I still find it instructive.
When you give, give a gift that says, “I believe in you. You’re worth something. God has an amazing future for you and for those whom you will bless.”
Do you remember the movement in Los Angeles to give new shopping carts to the homeless, because many of them were using old, beat-up carts? We do have an obligation to help the homeless. However, the best solution is not to give them new shopping carts—a gift that seems to say, “You’re homeless and that’s all you’ll ever be, so here’s a new buggy. Now leave us alone.”
A much better gift, obviously, would be to give the homeless a place to sleep, or job training, or substance abuse counseling, or whatever it is they need to become the person God created them to be. The best gift would be to help them get to a point where they too could know and love Jesus. As a society, as a church, and as individuals, we need to look for ways to give gifts that affirm the value of the person receiving the gift.
PLEASE THINK ABOUT THIS: we should not give with an attitude that says, “I’m giving this gift because I’m generous,” but rather with the attitude that says, “I’m giving this gift because you’re worth it … especially to Jesus.”
Everything we have is a gift from God
Jesus’ beloved disciple reminds us: “We love because he first loved us” (John 4:19). We now have the privilege of giving because we were first loved and given to. We now have the privilege of giving remembering that everything we have is a gift from God.
The wise men brought valuable gifts to Jesus because they recognized His value. When you give, give a gift that says, “You’re worth something to me and to the Lord Jesus.” I have found that this exercise always leads to prayer and thanksgiving for the individual.
During the Advent and Christmas seasons, as you continue your preparation for the celebration of Christmas and also for Christ’s return again in glory, remember that giving does play a crucial role in experiencing Christ’s presence, power, and peace during this Holy Season … and throughout the rest of the year.
In imitation of our God from the cleansing of the heart that He brings and through the strength He supplies, let us endeavor to …
- give more than we hope to get;
- give out of love, not obligation;
- give in a way that communicates to others, “You are worth something to me and especially to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
God cared enough to give His very best. May we do the same.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Photo (c) Pearl/Lightstock