GIVING FROM THE HEART
Christmas and giving seem to go together. They have for hundreds of years. It all started with the legend of St Nicholas who started bringing gifts to the poor children on Christmas Eve. Since that time so long ago it has grown and grown to become a time when we show our love though our gifts.
There are so many stories that have grown up over the years about gifts and giving. In fact, the idea of Boxing Day was originally that you would box up your leftovers and give them to the poor.
Then there is White Gift, started by a Presbyterian Minister’s wife in the early 1900’s when a Sunday school was having a gift exchange and she wanted to make it fairer, by making all of the gifts anonymous.
When I was thinking about who in the Christmas story gave the best gifts… like the shepherds or the drummer boy or the Wise Men… it occurred to me that I was missing someone, Joseph.
In fact, Joseph has got to be the unsung hero of the whole story. He gets the smallest part of all, no dialogue, an Angel tells him to go with it, and then he just goes along. But if you stop to think about it, it could not have been that simple.
So today let’s get behind the giving, let’s look at why sharing from our heart is important, and let’s celebrate the meaning of these gifts.
So why do gifts have such power in these stories? Why is giving such a huge part of Christmas?
One of my favourite Christmas quotes of all times comes from Charles Dickens. In fact, Dickens and his book A Christmas Carol, sort of launched our modern Victorian influenced celebration of Christmas and made it into this gift giving, turkey feasting festival.
In the book, Scrooge, who hates Christmas, has a nephew who loves Christmas. And in an argument the nephew says this:
“But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round… as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys…"
Or to put it in the way Terry did at our Advent study the other day, during Christmas we all seem to be able to let ourselves imagine that all these miraculous things are true…
So how about this, an angel comes to you in the middle of the night and tells you your teenage girlfriend is pregnant, but not to worry, it is God’s child and everything will be all right.
What kind of man does it take to accept that? What kind of person could put the doubts away and believe in the miracle?
If Joseph was a different person, I bet Christmas would not have happened. After all, we tend to make the past sound a lot friendlier than it really was. If your fiancé got pregnant by someone else, the proscribed punishment would be to stone her to death publically as a harlot.
But Joseph never even seems to consider this, he seems to operate from some other way of being.
Now, Paul had some pretty good advice for the church in Corinth, be a cheerful giver. Give from the heart and because you want to. If you do that, you are doing a good deed.
Then Jesus ups this one more time by saying when you give even if you have nothing, when you risk giving more than you can, you will be blessed.
It is not as if Jesus is saying you will be judged, you have to see this the right way. Jesus is saying, if you are faithful, if you believe in God, if you follow the religion the way it was taught to you in Sunday School, you are going to give from your heart.
See what I mean, if you are full of love, you just love. It is a natural response. You don’t have to be forced to do it. You don’t need to be convinced. It is just part of who you are.
Back to our friend Joseph, he was a Tekton, in Greek, which means he worked with his hands. He was either a wood worker or a stone mason. People have generally fallen towards carpentry, but it makes no difference, he was a skilled labourer and he was from a really small town.
He was from an unremarkable family of simple folk, and his marriage was arranged, probably by his father, to a young neighbor girl.
Joseph probably hasn’t been to Jerusalem more than once in his life, for a religious pilgrimage to the Temple. He certainly has never been any further away from town than that.
I want you to understand all of this because it shows us something of who Joseph was, someone just like you and me, a normal, run of the mill small town boy who grew up and worked for his father and got engaged when his family told him to.
Except… he has faith. We may not know much about Joseph, but we know that. We know when an Angel shows up and talks to him he listens. We know that he found out Mary was pregnant and did not shun her. We know he raises this child, not his real son, as if he was his very own, so much so that Jesus goes down in history as the Son of Joseph and a Carpenter, same as his father.
We know that Joseph fled his home town and left the country to Keep Jesus safe, we know that he brought him to the Temple to have him circumcised, we know that he took him to Jerusalem to learn from the Rabbi’s.
See, Joseph might not be mentioned a whole lot in the Bible, but we know what he did.
He loved. He gave of himself when he did not have to. He helped Jesus become who he needed to be.
Conclusion of Theme
There is a story I read quite a while ago now, I cannot even remember where I first saw it. But it is about a young boy, let’s say he is seven, who has an older sister who is dying.
Turns out there is a chance to turn things around, the girl needs a blood transfusion, and then perhaps her body will heal itself, and her brother is the perfect match.
The parents go to him and explain all of this carefully and completely, and ask him if he will be willing to do this, to which he says, of course.
So they are lying in hospital beds side by side and they hook up the IV and the blood starts pumping out and into the filter and the boy looks up and says…. “How long before I die?”
He thought he was giving all of his blood so his sister could live. And he did it anyway.
We might become a little cynical about the gift buying, about the credit card debt, about how it all seems to spiral out of control sometimes. But we also have to remember that there is something very basic at the heart of all of this. We give because we love. That is what Joseph taught us.