Advent Conspiracy: Give More
In my premarital counseling sessions, I sometimes use a resource called The Five Languages of Love, by Gary Chapman. Chapman argues that one of the reasons why we struggle in relationships is because we don’t realize that we’re speaking different languages from the people we love, and so we don’t realize that they’re telling us they love us, and they don’t realize that we’re telling them that we love them. We say, “I love you,” in different languages, Chapman insists, and only one of the five languages he describes is based on verbal communication. The languages of love he outlines are Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, and Gift Giving. My mom first introduced me to this book, after she’d been introduced to it by her pastor. She figured that between her four kids and herself, each one of us spoke in a different “love language.” And so while Todd, who understands Words of Affirmation best, might have said, “I love you,” to Mom, it would really have meant something powerful if they were accompanied by his willingness to do the dishes! And my brother Tim really appreciates a hug or a back rub. And my older brother wants your time – quality time. Me, my love language is Gift-Giving. Oh, you don’t have to buy me extravagant, expensive things. My favorite gifts are those that simply tell me that someone knows me well, or that someone was thinking about me. I love gifts that tell the story of a relationship, things that remind me of the giver when I see them. Usually, that “love language” that makes us feel most loved is also the language that we speak to others most often. I love giving people gifts, and anticipating giving a gift when I feel like I’ve found just the right thing. Chapman urges us learn each other’s languages, to speak not just in our own language, but in the language we know others need to hear, and to try to hear when others are trying to tell us they love us, even if they aren’t saying it in our primary language. And so, if I speak the language of Gift Giving, I can try to view Words of Affirmation as a gift, or someone’s Quality Time as a Gift. In essence, Chapman encourages us to be translators, so that we learn to speak love, and hear love spoken, in whatever language love is shared.
This week in our Advent Conspiracy journey, the theme is right up my alley: Give More. That might seem like a conflicting message, since last week we were talking about Spending Less. The authors of the program write, “We know what you're thinking. “Wait, didn't they just say I should spend less, and yet here they are telling me to give more? What gives?” The most powerful, memorable gift you can give to someone else is yourself. And nobody modeled this more than Jesus. So what does this look like for you?” “The best gifts celebrate a relationship.” (1)
Indeed, God’s best gift to us, the gift of Jesus, represents not only God’s dearest relationship, a parent giving a gift of their own child, but also God’s relationship with us, also claimed as God’s children, God’s beloved, as God becomes God-with-us, God-in-the-flesh, just to get closer to us, just to get through to us, just to love us more fully, in a way we can reach out and touch. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” This is the incarnation – God-made-flesh. A gift of presence. A gift that is personal. A gift that is costly – in fact, priceless. God speaks loves to us in the gift of Jesus. How do we receive the gift? How do we accept it? Are we getting God’s message?
As we prepare our hearts to receive the gift of the Incarnation, the gift of God-with-us, the gift of the Christ-child, I’d like us to think about whether we’re hearing the language of love God is speaking to us in the gift of Jesus. Because I think some of our responses to God’s gift suggest we’re not speaking the same language. Sometimes we outright say “no thank you” to the gifts God seeks to give us. Have you ever refused a gift? Every year about this time a bake about a million cookies and send packages to friends from high school, college, seminary, and so on. One year, after I sent out some emails to get updated addresses, one of my friends responded saying that she didn’t really want any cookies. They would go to waste. I have to admit – I was crushed! I’ve moved on, but I’ve never forgotten that I offered her the gift that represented much more than showing off my baking skills, and she said, “No thank you.” Have you ever refused God’s gifts to you?
Sometimes we receive a gift from God but we don’t open it or don’t use it. Last week we talked about Black Friday – the busiest shopping day of the year. But another very busy shopping day is – the day after Christmas. That’s the day when everyone goes to the store to return gifts they’ve received the day before! Of course, sometimes sizes are wrong or things don’t work or duplicates were purchased. Perhaps we’ve all experienced receiving a gift we really didn’t want. A shirt that just isn’t your style. A gift card to a restaurant you don’t really like. But maybe we’ve also experienced the painful feeling of realizing you’ve given a gift that was unwanted. A gift you give and never see again! Sometimes this giving mishaps take place because the giver and receiver don’t really know each other so well, don’t have a clear picture of each other. Maybe you’re giving to someone you only know through work or school or in one setting. But God – God knows us inside out. God can’t give us a gift that doesn’t suit us. And God gives out of God’s own self the gift we have in Christ. A gift marked with our own name. This is not a gift to put on a shelf! This is not a gift to return to the store! The gifts God gives are meant to be used and opened.
Our biggest misunderstanding of God’s gift to us is when we try to put a price tag on something that God offers to us freely. Any of you watch The Big Bang Theory? Eccentric physicist Sheldon Cooper hates exchanging gifts with people. Watch this quick clip: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9r0HW9X2Nc) Of course, we laugh at Sheldon’s behavior. He’s ridiculous, of course. But don’t we do just this with God? Don’t we turn God’s gift into an obligation, a favor, something we’ve bought, something we owe God for? If a gift comes with strings attached it is not a gift. And when we try to attach strings to God’s gift of Jesus Christ, to God’s gift of love, to God’s gift of grace, we’re turning God’s offering of love into an exchange of goods for a price. And that’s no gift at all. Costly but free. God offers us a gift. Let’s stop trying to figure out the rules, the strings, the obligations, the fine print.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Thanks be to God for the gifts we have received. Let’s learn to speak this language of love, and give more, even our very selves, to God and one another. Amen.