When I was in the second grade, I received one of my most memorable Christmas gifts. I woke up that morning, came down the stairs, and my gift could not be contained under the tree — it was too big.
It was my first bike, a yellow and black BMX-style bike (are you kidding me, we couldn’t afford the real thing!). The bike was beautiful. It was a typical cold, December morning, but that didn’t stop me from riding it up and down the sidewalks for an hour or two that day.
That bike and I went through a lot of great activities as a kid: riding to the neighborhood 7-11 for slushees, racing to the pool for mid-summer swims, riding up and down neighborhood streets pretending to be race cars, jumping and crashing over ramps. It’s been nearly 40 years, and I still remember that Christmas gift.
Christmas + the Nature of God
Like or not, gifts are a huge part of Christmas. The American economy hums in part because of the spending done during the Christmas season. However, for many people, Christmas tests our generosity.
Just like the core theology of Christianity is baked into the Christmas story, the nature of God is also unmistakably within the narrative of Christmas. Generosity is a core component of God’s nature. God is love. He is forgiving. God is generous. But God doesn’t just act loving, forgiving and generous. He IS loving, forgiving and generous. They’re not just things he does, they is who God is.
In the Christmas story, we see the heart of God at work. The wisemen give their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The shepherds visit Jesus and give their praise. The angels sing the gift of worship.
What I love about the story of Christmas is how the act of giving is celebrated, not the actual gift. The magi’s gift is extravagant and expensive. The shepherd’s gift is simple with no monetary value. The angels give a song.
Generosity is a heart issue.
The Christmas narrative ends with the story of Mary and Joseph traveling to the temple to present Jesus to God. They go, not because they are overly pious, but because the Jewish law requires it. It was a tradition from the time of Moses. Here is what the law said:
“When the time of purification is completed for either a son or a daughter, the woman must bring a one-year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or turtledove for a purification offering. She must bring her offerings to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle.” -Leviticus 12:6 NLT
We get a picture of the financial status of Jesus’ family just two verses later. We see Joseph and Mary were poor.
“If a woman cannot afford to bring a lamb, she must bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons. One will be for the burnt offering and the other for the purification offering. The priest will sacrifice them to purify her, and she will be ceremonially clean.” -Leviticus 12:8 NLT
If you can’t afford a lamb and a bird, then you are to bring two turtledoves or pigeons. For God, it’s not about the gift, it’s about the heart. Mary and Joseph’s heart was to honor God with the gift they could afford to give. Luke makes this clear in his story about the life of Jesus:
“The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”” -Luke 2:23-24 NLT
Generosity is a heart issue.
Christmas + Easter: the Heart of Generosity
Luke wrote the Christmas story most often read during the holiday season, and he wraps up his story of Jesus’ life with another example of generosity. In this case, it was a much more costly gift.
When Jesus was sentenced to death on a cross, one man stepped forward to ask for Jesus’ body. It was a man known as Joseph of Arimathea. Not a lot of Joseph is known, but we know he was a Pharisee and according the the book of John, a secret follower of Jesus.
“Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock.” -Luke 23:50-53 NLT
The night of Jesus’ death, Joseph stepped out of the shadows and at great cost offered his own tomb to bury Jesus. The cost was both monetary – a new tomb – and social – stepping out of bounds of his role as Jewish leader. Generosity is a heart issue.
The State of Your Heart
This Christmas is a great time to ask:
“What is the state of my heart?”
The litmus test, this season, is your level of generosity. It’s not the size of gift that matters. It doesn’t matter if your generosity consists of a couple of pennies or thousands of dollars. What matters is your generosity flowing from a pure heart.
Over the next few days you’ll give, receive and witness the giving and receiving of gifts both extravagant and simple. In your heart, can you be excited and satisfied? The traditions may not mesh with your own, but will you choose to enjoy the moment? This Christmas may you enter into the heart of God. He is generous. May you too be generous in thought and deed.