We’ve all experienced receiving an unexpected gift. Maybe it was from someone you did not buy a gift for. Maybe the value of a gift was far above and beyond anything you gave them. In these moments we feel utterly inadequate. We search for words, and shift uneasily.
Simply receiving is difficult for us because it requires complete humility.
We prefer exchanges. Equal ground. I have something for you so, so I happily accept something from you.
Even within the safety and vulnerability of family, humbly receiving a gift that falls outside the lines of what we deem a fair exchange tramples our (false) sense of dignity.
We try to maneuver around these feelings of insufficiency with conversations about a small Christmas budget or that we are just behind on our shopping, but that is all really beside the point.
When you peel back the layers and set aside excuses about social expectations, it is our pride which does not permit us to feel indebted to someone.
Having spent many Christmases wrestling through such awkward inner turmoil, I can honestly say that it is still my first impulse to feel this way, but I am learning to relax my grip on self-image.
In the simple yet extravagant truth of the Christmas story, God reminds us that the first Gift was the greatest of all, and also the least deserved.
“[W]e were by nature children under wrath… But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:3-9 HCSB
This was far from an exchange. We were dead in trespasses and under wrath, we had nothing to offer. God made us alive, raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ, so that he could continue to display the immeasurable riches of His grace to us as a free gift. Talk about feeling inadequate! This is the beauty of the gospel.
When the angel first appeared to the shepherds, announcing the arrival of Jesus, he used gift-giving language:
“Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”Luke 2:11-12 HCSB
God saw fit to first appear to these lowly shepherds and make known even to― no, especially to― them that the anointed King had come for them, and he was bringing unprecedented peace for them (2 Cor 5:18-20). What a humbling privilege it must have been for these poor and filthy shepherds alone to have witnessed a heavenly host proclaiming glory to God for the gift that had come!
When we identify with the lowly shepherds we can rightly receive the magnificent gift the angels came to announce.
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Mark 2:17 NIV
Recognizing and owning our spiritual insufficiency is a prerequisite for salvation.
Christmas is an appropriate reminder that everything we receive is an undeserved gift. When we rightly understand our empty-handedness before God, we are free to receive what we can never earn or repay!
“‘Who has ever given to God,Romans 11:35-36 NIV
that God should repay them?’
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
When we live in the reality that we bring nothing to the table when it comes to God’s gift of reconciliation, we will humbly rejoice that our worth and dignity is found in Christ and not in our merit. From there, it is a small step to joyfully receive undeserved gifts from others with humble gratitude.
Let the moments of inadequacy and unpreparedness this Christmas season point you to your spiritual bereftness before our holy God.
Receive those gentle reminders (and gifts) with joy and thanksgiving. Let them usher your heart to come and behold Him once again.
“When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying one to another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem, and see this [wonderful] thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.'”Luke 2:15 AMP
It is a privilege to practice receiving this Christmas, that we might better understand our impoverished place in this story and fully experience the joy and gift of Jesus.
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace”Rock of Ages, Augustus Toplady