“Spirit of giving” or societal obligation?

A whole hour of talk radio was taken up with the rules of Christmas gift-giving. One lady complained bitterly that she puts a lot of thought into finding the right gifts for people but all she gets in return is the usual stuff like perfume that takes only a few minutes to find and purchase. Someone else then asked what to do if Mother-in-law gives you an awful gift. And there were other questions like “Are you expected to give a gift to a person who gives a gift to you?” or “What if the gift you give is pathetic compared to the gift you receive?” And, believe it or not, “What rules govern ‘re-gifting’ a present you don’t like and giving it to someone else?”

It was mind-boggling. You can’t give a gift nowadays without worrying about what type of gift you must (or must not) give, how a gift ought to be wrapped, what message the gift is giving, what guilt-trips or disappointment it might create, or if it’s cheating if you buy it on sale.

But that’s Christmas. It’s ripping the heart out of giving, making it an obligation, an expectation, a society dictate that all must comply with. Thanks to Christmas we’re losing the meaning of the word “gift.” Gifts are normally something you give with pleasure to someone you love or deeply care for, not because of seasonal expectation, or fear of society etiquette, or to get a gift in return. A gift that has to be given isn’t a gift anymore, it’s a requirement. And a gift that’s given expecting a gift in return is a trade-off, not a gift.

I can’t help comparing all this to God’s gifts, because with his gifts there are no strings attached. They are gifts in the original sense of the word, given from the heart, expecting nothing in return. They’re GIFTS, for Pete’s sake. When Paul writes, “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God,” Ephesians 2:8, he means exactly that, our salvation is a gift. It comes with no rules and regulations to be obeyed, no having to earn it by being good, and no guilt-trips if we don’t do something in return.

That’s the real Spirit of Giving, not the sham our culture calls the “spirit of giving” at Christmas. No wonder people can’t grasp that God’s salvation is entirely a gift, when the very day that pictures God’s greatest gift to us – his Son, Jesus Christ – is made into a nightmare of rules and obligations instead.

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