Are you a good receiver? (and I’m not talking Mizzou football here)

[Ask for a kid volunteer.  Have them unwrap gift … send child back to pew]

I’ll bet if I just asked you to describe what you just saw… you would be likely to say you saw me give a gift to a child.  And that would be true.  But there was something equally important that I wonder if you caught: N._____ received a gift.  S/he received it.

Christmas is often described as a season of giving. But we will never truly get Christmas unless we understand receiving.   The Christmas story is not about how blessed we are to be givers, but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers. You and I had nothing to do with that first Christmas, what God did for us in that Great Birth. All we could do at Bethlehem was receive it – a free gift from an incredible God.

To be capable of love we must become capable of both giving and receiving. It is, of course, absolutely necessary to learn to give.  Some of us could use a little work on the giving side, eh?  Probably more of us, however, are pretty good at giving, but need help on receiving.  There is a certain vulnerability and loss of control when we let people take care of us, pay attention to us, minister to us, listen to us, serve us.  It’s hard, in our culture, to be on the receiving end of love—God’s or anyone else’s.  The first thing we want to do is give a gift in return, not out of gratitude or even friendship, but out of guilt.  We don’t want to feel indebted.  We blush when we receive a compliment.  It’s our first default, isn’t it–to feel not worthy, or to feel a compulsion to give back and try to make up for it?  We are much more comfortable in the world of EARNING.  We want to ‘do something’ to merit the love/gift we receive.

That is precisely why, I believe, the story of our salvation begins in that tiny Bethlehem stable.  Of all the ways God could have broken into our world, he chose to come in the only way we’d have toreceive him – as a child.  Those of you who are parents know – when you hold that newborn in your hands for the first time – you KNOW there is NOTHING you could have done to earn that gift.  And so the Christ is born among us as a babe so that we’ll get the beginning of our salvation ‘right’ – we’ll learn to receive it.  We simply receive it.

And then, to make sure that we get it, that we understand that receiving is THE PATTERN of salvation history, what are the last words we hear from our Lord on the cross?  “Father into your hands I commend my spirit.”  Jesus asks his Father to receive the gift of his life, his sacrifice.  “Receive my life.  Receive my love.  Receive my sacrifice.”  ‘Built into’ both the beginning and end of Jesus’ life is the experience of receiving.

Mary got this! Hers was an utter receptivity to God. “Let it be done to me…”  Jesus understood it in his life and death.  What about you and me? Will you dare to stand before the Crib with open hands and open heart and receive the love that is there for you this year?  Will you let yourself hear God say: “I love you?” this Christmas?  Can we receive the many ways God comes to us now?  Can we name it for what it is: GOD blessing us!

On Friday night of this past thanksgiving weekend, some plans fell through.  And there I was, stuck in the rectory, and feeling very much alone (and a bit pathetic).  So after a dinner of some very good leftovers, but leftovers, none the less, I went up to my room.  I was working my way up to a pretty good pity party, when the phone startled me out of my ruminations.  An old doctor friend from CoMo had dug up my phone number through a link on the Newman Center website.  We had the most wonderful of conversations – catching up on life.  And when it was done, I sat in my chair, and gave thanks to God for loving me so well. One might argue, “That’s just my friend loving me.” Yes, it’s your friend… but ultimately it is God loving you THROUGH that friend!  Can we name that?

Concretely this Christmas season I challenge you focus on the receiving part:

  • When you hear an affirmation, a compliment, hear it as God affirming you!
  • When you look up at the night sky – hear God say, “I love you.”
  • If you’re lucky enough to sit across the table with family, or watch them do dishes, take out trash, etc… hear God say “I serve you.”
  • When someone confides in you… hear God say “I trust you.”
  • If with a friend, “I want to be with you”
  • The kindness of a stranger… (clerk) – “I love you.”
  • Let God love you hug you through that hug…
  • Let God serve you through that kindness…
  • Let God listen to you through the ears of that confidant
  • Let God move you through the creativity of a poet, artist, musician… beauty and song
  • When you are eating – alone or with family/friends, let God feed you.
  • Through this whole Sacrament of the Eucharist: The people/choir singing/the decorations/our communion – let God love you

Can you imagine, if we let ourselves frame reality like this—let ourselves just receive these gifts— how absolutely loved we could feel every day?  I can’t imagine anything God would want more from us this Christmas… Because one of the things the giver of any gift wants most is that the gift be received…

Just a little bit ago, a volunteer came up and you saw me give her a gift.  But more importantly, you saw her do something essential to salvation for each of us.  She received.  This Christmas, may we learn to do the same…