“SEASONING OUR GIVING”
TEXT: 2 Corinthians 9: 6-15
Sunday, December 8, 2002
In 1983, 5,000 people nearly staged a riot at a Hill’s Department store in Chesterton, WV. Displays were knocked over, people were pushed, shoved and grabbed, and it was an ugly scene. The same year in Wilkes Barre, PA, a woman’s leg was broken in a crowd of 1,000 people who turned violent after waiting eight hours in the cold outside a Sear’s Department store. During the same year in Milwaukee, two DJ’s joked over the airways that a B-29 would be flying over the county stadium, dropping a certain cargo to people who, if they held up catcher’s mitts and American Express cards, would receive this cargo. Several dozen people faced sub-zero temperatures watching longingly at the sky with catcher’s mitts and American Express cards raised heavenward.
What was the cause for all this? Can you remember 1983? Cabbage Patch Kids. Time teaches us that all these fads come and go. They are cyclical and what is hot one year is cold the next year. I know my children wanted Furby so bad when it came out. It was cute, no doubt about it, but it was expensive. After you’ve been here long enough on this earth, you know that things come and things go. Now, at Toys R Us Furby sells for $4.99.
Even knowing that, many of us still fall into the same old trap of this kind of crass commercialism. We behave sometimes unseemly. It is these incidences and behaviors while people are shopping that have caused many people to discard, or believe they should discard, what is the oldest Christmas tradition–that of gift giving. I know some Christian groups advocate getting rid of gift-giving.
I had the opportunity to ring the bell as part of our Christmas offering outside the mall. It happened to be the area where all the shopkeepers went to have a smoke during their break. While they came out for a smoke, they liked to talk to the bell ringer. I asked them how things were going in the stores and what were people really like. They told me some incredible stories. There are a lot of nice people, but there are a lot of people who are just nasty, Scrooge-y, irritable. Is that us? What are we like when we are out shopping?
This tradition of giving is in response to what Christ has given to us. Are we giving in such a way that it reflects him, or have we fallen into this trap of materialism. Is our gift-giving really just gift-swapping? Should we get rid of this tradition which has for many become a materialistic binge. For some, the answer is yes, but I would advocate no. All we really need to do is season things up a little bit so that the flavor of Christ comes out.
How do we do that as Christian people? My best text is 2 Corinthians 9. We are going to look at verses 6 and 7 because this is enough to transform giving at Christmastime so that it is a meaningful, spiritually uplifting experience.
In this short text I see five principles of giving at Christmastime. The first is obvious: Give generously. The text tells us that the one who sows sparingly reaps sparingly, and the one who sows generously reaps generously. For instance, who receives the most Christmas cards? The one who sends the most. The more you send, the more you get back. Who receives more presents? The person who is Scrooge, or the person who is generous? How about birthday gifts? If you have just a family celebration, the family gives the gifts. How do you get more? Throw a party. It’s a form of giving and everyone knows it. Throw a party and you get more gifts. The same thing is true of friendships. Who has more friends? The person who befriends many and gives of himself.
You might think this is a dangerous direction in which to go, but it is very scriptural. It is not materialistic in that as Christians we give from a motive that we have already received. As a response to God’s generosity to us, we give. Hasn’t God been generous to us? So be generous as a result of his generosity. In our scripture passage, Paul is encouraging people to give generously to those in need.
In Portland, OR, a lady stops in a coffee shop and buys a java mocha. She told the shopkeeper that she would pay for her own as well as for her friend behind her. The person who came to the counter next didn’t know the woman. He was so touched by the fact that someone else bought him a coffee, he told the shopkeeper that he would buy a coffee for the person behind him. For two solid hours that scenario continued. Twenty-seven customers did the same thing as the result of the generosity of one person.
Isn’t this in contrast to the way we give sometimes. If you are like me, by the time you are done shopping for all the people that you are supposed to buy for–your children, your parents, your grandparents, your siblings and their children–you don’t want to give to anyone else. Your credit cards are maxed out, you feel in debt, and as a result you feel very stingy. As you walk past the Salvation Army bucket you don’t meet the bell-ringer’s eye because you feel guilty. You pull the extra dollar or two back from the waitress because you just can’t afford it. We become stingy as a result.
The only way to break this cycle is to open our hearts to be generous to other people and to look for opportunities to do so. You may need to simplify the gift-giving to our family members and increase giving to others who need it. When you go to the Salvation Army bucket, instead of giving the pocket change or a dollar, how about slipping in $5, $10 or $20. Try buying someone else’s coffee and see if the idea works. Go to your local coffee shop and buy a book of $1 gift certificates and give them to people that you don’t normally give things to. Be generous to the waiters. Don’t give because you are giving for their service–give them a Christmas gift even if you receive horrible service. Give them $5, $10 or even $20 because you are giving them a gift for what God has done for you. Be generous to those around you.
Verse 7 says to give thoughtfully. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give. In all areas, this is probably where we err the most. Sometimes when we do our Christmas shopping, we get so tired of it all that we just start pulling things off the shelf. Very little thought goes into it. It becomes just something we pay for and there’s no real meaning behind it. It is better to give no gift at all than a thoughtless gift. My sister-in-law lived with us for awhile, and the first Christmas her sister, who lived in Houston, sent her a gift. She’s 32 years old and she hates M&M’s. What does she get? This huge M&M dispenser–and it hurt her tremendously because of the thoughtlessness of the gift. Someone had just pulled it off the shelf because they just wanted to get the job done. Is that how we give?
If you want giving to be more meaningful, put some thought into it. Look for ways to touch some person’s life through the gift. Buy a gift that has meaning attached to it. When you look at the story of the magi, all of the gifts had a significance behind them. The gold, frankincense and myrrh had meaning. We have a book called “Christmas Gifts from the Heart.” It has some good ideas of gifts that are thoughtful and meaningful. One could be to decorate a box and fill it with family treasures such as pictures of your child’s childhood and give it to them. Give your children an assortment of ornaments from the family Christmas tree to seed into their Christmas tree and recall memories. Give an item that has been long admired by a friend. Give a basket of homemade treats. Give someone’s favorite music along with a candle or tea. Take someone’s kids for the evening so that they can relax. Give gift certificates to a person’s favorite restaurant, coffee shop or grocery store.
One of the best gifts I ever received–and it didn’t cost anything–was a farewell gift of a communion cup for me to remember the rich communion I had with the congregation of that church. I’ll never forget that gift ever. It had a purpose and meaning behind it.
Give a letter of appreciation or a letter of love. Perhaps give some time to someone. Give a teapot with two bags and a promise attached to it that you will share this cup of tea with this person within the next week. Give gift certificates that you can make up yourself such as two hours of housekeeping, babysitting, car washing, yard work, computer lessons, or whatever the person needs.
Some great gifts parents can give children is a sleep over or pick them up from school with a snack for just you and them or a trip to the bowling alley or their favorite activity with just you. Take a day off from work just for them.
This passage teaches us to give voluntarily. Notice the phrases: “not reluctantly, and not under compulsion.” There is a book called “Unplugging the Christmas Machine” and the authors have identified ten hidden gift rules that rob us of our joy in giving:
Give to everyone you expect a gift from. If someone gives you a gift unexpectedly, reciprocate that year. Some people have generic gifts already purchased in case this should happen to them. When you add a new person to your list, give the person a gift every year. The amount spent correlates to how much you care about him or her. Gift exchanges between adults should be roughly equal in value and pray that you don’t have a rich uncle or aunt. The presents you give someone should be fairly consistent in value over the years. If you give a gift to a person in one category, like a co-worker, you must give a gift to all co-workers. Women should give gifts to their closest women friends. Men should not give gifts to their closest male friends. If it is a gift, it must be an alcoholic beverage. If you experience difficulty with any of these rules, the remedy is just get more gifts.
Why do we give? Is it because of these hidden rules, or is it because God has given to us? We are not there to try to uphold some worldly standard or tradition of men. We need to discard those rules and give because of what God has done for us.
We needed to make a radical change, and in our family we drew names. I have a family of nine and my wife has a family of five. There was no way we could possibly give a thoughtful gift to all of those people, so we began to draw names. It has relieved a lot of stress, but it caused real havoc in the family. They detested this idea, but it was the right thing to do.
The same thing goes with charities. Don’t give to a charity at Christmastime because you feel guilty. That’s compulsion. Give because you want to give.
Give cheerfully. This is a good principle. I’m going to talk about the process of giving that we call shopping. How do you shop? Is it cheerfully or is your attitude a bit different? Maybe a little edgy and grouchy. Remember the purpose behind your giving. It is an expression of your faith. We give because of what God has done for us. Resolve in your heart to be joyful. Choose to be joyful. You can choose to be angry and irritable, or you can choose to shop with joy. You can choose to be stressed out or you can choose to be relaxed. If you are stressed out, there’s a Sunday School class called “Reducing Stress.”
Wherever you are shopping, let the things that you see remind you of why you are shopping. Everything is decorated for Christmas. Let it remind you while you are out there. Slow down and realize that there are going to be long lines, that you are not going to get a good parking place, that there are irritable people who want to argue with the cashier. Expect these things so that when they happen it’s no big deal.
Think about whether you should take the children shopping with you. If taking them with you creates problems, then hire a babysitter. If you do take the kids, remember that they move much slower. Take lots of breaks. Even without the kids, take lots of breaks. Slow down and enjoy. The mall is a great place to do that because you can shop for awhile and then go sit down. What’s the rush? Experience God while you are shopping. Recheck your attitude and remind yourself that you are on a mission from God to be a blessing to others.
Give from your heart. Verse 7 says that each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give. Do you give gifts that are from the center of your being? The best gift from my family was a sweatshirt with the children’s hand prints which became reindeer. I don’t wear it during Christmastime because dozens of women stop me to tell me how cute it is.
What are some gifts from the heart? How about grace? Give the gift of clemency and forgive someone who offends you. Give people your words of gratitude and appreciation. Give the gift of listening, affection, laughter and cheerfulness, acceptance and prayer. Give the gift of time and love.
Oscar Hammerstein said this to a pupil: “A bell is not a bell until you ring it. A song is not a song until you sing it. The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay for love isn’t love til it’s given away.” This season, may we give away God’s love to others.
This message has been centered around our gifts to each other. There is still a point missed and that is since it’s Jesus’ birthday, what do we plan to give him? I encourage you to sit down quietly sometime this season and earnestly pray and ask God, “What do you want me to give you this Christmas?” Have paper ready and sit and listen and hear what he has to say. Then have the courage to respond. Perhaps ask a second question, “Lord, what do you want me to give to others in your name?” When you do, remember to give generously, thoughtfully, obediently, cheerfully and from your heart.
If we do these things, I think we will spice up this tradition of giving and it will take on a whole new meaning. Let’s pray.