It Is Better to Receive
“It’s better to give than to receive.”
Chances are, you’ve heard this phrase at some point since December 1st.
While this popular adage is a true and good reminder of selflessness, might I offer a different thought for reflection? The best thing we can do this Christmas is receive.
Hear me out.
We can’t give what we don’t have. If Immanuel doesn’t reign in our hearts, how can we offer Him to others? If our souls are not filled with grace (God’s very life!) how can we be conduits of grace for others? If we haven’t prayerfully asked the Lord for the gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love this Advent, how can we offer these gifts to a world that is often despairing, agitated, angry, and selfish?
Rather than finding the perfect gifts or giving the right donations, let us receive during these final, dwindling days of Advent. Let us prepare Him room in our hearts through the cleansing ocean of mercy in the Confessional. Let us receive the One who was born in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” as He comes to us in the form of bread; bread transformed into His very body. Let us contemplate anew the fact that our God became human.
I’ll never forget one evening during the Christmas season when I was a little girl. I quietly tip-toed to the “Christmas Tree Room” and knelt before the manger scene. All of the lights were off except for the tree and candles. The whole room was quiet except for the music box singing Silent Night. I knelt before the manger scene and gazed on the lovely face of Mary and the open arms of Jesus; the quiet strength of Joseph and the humility of the shepherds; the splendor of the angel and the warmth of the animals. My child’s heart contemplated the beauty of the Christmas gift.
It can be a subtle temptation to think that the Christmas story is for children reading it for the first time or performing in a church pageant. The poignant truth that God became human can lose its wonder as we hear the story year after year. But God’s humanity is a source of lifelong reflection. The fact that our all-knowing, all-powerful Lord became a human – a poor, speechless, weak, pooping baby – on the first Christmas is something to be re-discovered every year. Even as a grownup. Every Christmas He offers each of us the gift of Himself. He freely offers us the gift of grace, His own life dwelling in our hearts.
How are we to receive the gifts Jesus offers us this Christmas? Let’s look at the examples of children on Christmas morning. There are several different ways that they might react to new presents which mirror how we often react to God’s gifts to us.
Child #1: Demands more presents after the pile that “isn’t big enough” is finished while jealously comparing their presents to those of siblings and friends. We often demand more of God and refuse to be satisfied by the life He has given us. Think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life before he meets the angel. He finds his ordinary life mediocre and contemplates rejecting God’s first gift to each of us – the gift of life. How often do we jealously compare the life God has blessed us with to the life He has given others? How often do we wish away a particularly challenging time by thinking “someday it will get easier” instead of appreciating the gift of right now?
This Christmas, receive the gift of your life exactly as it is right now. Your job right now, just as it is. Your studies right now, just as they are. Your family situation, spouse, children, right now, just as they are. Receive from Christ the gift of the present moment exactly as it is given to you.
Child #2: Completely ignores the giver, thinking they deserve what they got, so the idea of saying “thank you” never crosses their mind. Sometimes we are like this second child. We never even stop to consider that God has blessed us, because we assume that every good thing is our own doing. We feel entitled to the good that occurs during life and coast through without considering from Whom the good things come. We can be like the nine lepers cured by Christ who went away and never returned to thank Him for the gift of healing. When things are going well, it can be very easy to forget about God. But God doesn’t just want to hear from us when things go wrong. He reaches out to us through Mass, the Sacraments, Scripture, prayer, and those around us. There are so many things He wants to tell us if only we have ears to hear. He wants to be an intimate part of our lives and shape them in the best possible way.
This Christmas, receive the gift of “tuning in” to the voice of God and His will for your life. Receive His blessings in your life with conscious acknowledgement and a heart full of thanksgiving.
Child #3: Shouts for joy at the presents twinkling beneath the tree! Wonder, amazement, and gratitude spill from their heart to the hearts of their family along with a resolve to become a child deserving of such good gifts. May we all be like this third child! Let us receive the presence of Christ anew this Christmas with shouts of joy! Let us seek to be fully united to Christ at Christmas Mass when we receive Him in Holy Communion. Let’s allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by God’s good gifts and be completely filled up with His love. And while we can never earn or deserve His love, let’s strive to be the holy person He made us to be, to thank Him for His many blessings.
Then, and only then, can His love spill over from us to the world. Then, and only then, will we have something worthwhile to give – the love of Christ overflowing from us into the hearts of others.
This Christmas, before giving anything, let’s open our hearts to receive!