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 God. 12 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 God. 13 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?