Graceful Giving: Advent Reflection #4

It’s one of the most socially awkward moments of the Christmas holiday:  you’ve just torn the wrapping off a totally lame gift. It’s a sweater you’d never wear, a book you’d never read, a useless gadget whose only destiny is to be re-gifted at a white elephant party.  Everyone is watching you. Can you muster up a believable “Thank you?” Can you look the giver in the eye and deliver a convincing “It’s just what I’ve always wanted?”

Now imagine this: you’re a middle-aged woman with four kids. Since you were a teenager you’ve spent six hours a day fetching water, trudging uphill on dusty sun-baked paths with a 50-pound jug on your head.  By the time you get home, you’re so thirsty you wish you could drink the whole jug yourself.  But today, because somebody you’ll never meet clicked a button in cyberspace, they’re drilling for a well right in the middle of the village. Fetching water will now take ten minutes.   The moment that water gushes up for the first time, your whole lifestyle is changed.  Thanksgiving and joy overflows in your heart, in tandem with the water now pouring out on the cracked earth.

I think that’s the kind of heartfelt thanksgiving that Paul said would accompany genuine giving to the poor in II Corinthians 8-9.  So far, he has told them that giving can be empowered by grace, shaped by Jesus’ own example, and motivated by equality and justice.  Now, as Paul closes his letter, he reminds them that the ultimate goal of their giving is praise and thanks to God himself:

Through [this collection for the poor], your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of gift-giving I can get excited about this Advent.  Can you remember the last time you gave a Christmas gift that literally caused someone to “overflow in many expressions of thanks to God?”

If you do decide to make a contribution to those who need it most this Saturday, let me encourage you to make it an integral part of your Christmas celebration.  Just as our family gathers around the tree to give gifts to each other, we will also gather around the computer as we give to the organization of our choice.  As we click the button, we’ll pray for those who are receiving our gift, and ask that God will be the One to get the glory and receive the thanks.

What are your ideas for including God’s poor in your Christmas celebration?


5 thoughts on “Graceful Giving: Advent Reflection #4

  1. That’s totally true, about the difference in happiness that a gift will bring. I think about my friends, and what gifts I could possibly give them to bring such a positive reaction — and I come up blank. If I give them an expensive gift, they will feel obligated to reciprocate. And most likely both of us will have gotten something we didn’t really need or want that much. None of us are in need of nearby water.

    Great sweater/gift photo, BTW.

    I think the hard thing is the distance, both geographical and social. If I give a gift to my friend, I’ll get a smile and thank-you in return, even if they are only mildly happy to have received it. Whereas if I give a well to a stranger in a developing country, I have to imagine their joy. No one there is able to capture their joy and share it with me.

    I have two solutions to this:
    1) Work with organizations with which you have a personal connection. June has a friend who left the US to go start an orphanage in Uganda. When we donate there, she can relay the joy to us.
    2) Although the U.S. is a rich country, there are people here in great need too. Homeless, elderly, sick — the poor we will always have with us.

    • Yep, I agree that the distance thing is huge extremely difficult, and that your two suggestions are very helpful. But that also probably means that many of us would need to intentionally develop some personal connections with people who live near the poorest of the poor, like June’s friend in Uganda. Otherwise the great majority of the poorest remain untouched, because part of what keeps them poor is that they are cut off relationally from anyone with resources (i.e. they have no social capital).

  2. Here are some ideas for other ways to include the poor in our Christmas:

    In addition to being wealthy in terms of finances, as Americans (or Canadians, etc., any other Westerners reading this) we have been gifted with an abundance of leisure time, a concept that does not exist for many of our brothers and sisters. Accordingly, I like to get friends together over the holiday season to spend time with or advocating for the poor.

    You can volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter (the student-run Harvard Square Homeless Shelter in Cambridge, MA is always short-staffed during the holidays), write an advocacy letter for a prisoner of conscience (e.g. Amnesty International’s Urgent Action Network) or send holiday cards to detainees who have survived rape in prison through Just Detention International (, for example.

    From experience, I can say that these memories are a lot more meaningful than what one typically does during the holidays–which, at least for me, is mainly just veg in front of the TV, eating or going online.

      • Thanks for asking! This year, in addition to sending JDI cards, I’ve organized a few friends to join me for a shift at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter on New Year’s Eve; I like to take this shift because most people don’t want to, but I think there’s really no better way to mark the new year. I’m also pleased to report that some of our mutual friends from CCFC will be joining us on my shift and the shift after as first-time volunteers! 🙂

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