By this stage of our journey through Advent, we have probably had a number of different reactions to what we have heard and experienced; that could range from “It’s refreshing to hear that”, to “I can’t quite relate this to my current situation”, or even “I will think about it after Christmas”! One thing is certain; the four themes all relate to one another, and each one builds on the previous week. On that basis, this week’s theme urging us to “give more” is therefore not really the contradiction it may appear to be.
At the same time, the third Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of JOY. The temptation is always to think of joy in rather superficial terms, but hopefully we can do better than that. To give out of a sense of duty is one thing, to give because we want to give is another matter. Sri Ravi Shankar wrote in The Times of India, that
“There is a certain joy in getting something… (but) … the joy in giving is much more fulfilling than the joy of receiving…. Graduating from the mindset of taking to that of giving purifies the mind and brings immense joy”.
When we think about giving, our thoughts often turn to tangible things, and often those things just turn into more “stuff” that we don’t really need. There has to be another way! The AC study book declares that “The best gifts celebrate a relationship”. The starting point for that journey takes us right back to what Christmas is all about, and that brings us to a very personal gift from God. “God’s answer for the world’s problems has never been material things. God did not give us more stuff… He gave us himself. The most priceless and personal gift of all”.
The sub-heading for the chapter on “Give More” is “the gift of meaningful connection”, and that is crucial for the kind of giving that is envisaged here. In an age when we think about Christmas presents, we need to think a little more about the importance of Christmas presence. We said previously that perhaps it was not so much a case of spending less, but rather spending differently. The final stanza of Studdert-Kennedy’s hymn, Awake, awake to love and work includes these words:
To give and give, and give again, what God hath given thee; To spend thy self nor count the cost, to serve right gloriously The God who gave all worlds that are, and all that are to be.
In an age in which so many of us have trouble distinguishing reality and virtual reality, and may even use Christmas presents as a way of saying “keep your distance”, relational giving, the gift of Christmas presence, is a wonderful alternative!
Clive W Ayre