Unwrapping Christmas: Christ the King
This weekend we begin a new series, we are calling unwrapping Christmas. It’s a new series for a new season. This series is all about, looking at Christmas differently, that is unwrapping Christmas in a different way.
We start with unwrapping God’s gift to us this Christmas. God is a giver and everything is a gift. He has given us birth and life, friends and family, talents and possessions, opportunities and advancements, and on and on.
God is a generous giver. At Christmas we celebrate that God gave us his very best, that God the Father gave us his Son. Perhaps the most famous line in all of Scripture says, For God so loved the world he GAVE his only beloved Son. And then the Son loves us so much that he gave his life for us that we might have life. God loves, so God gives. God loves, so God gives. Since God is a giver and a generous giver, to grow as followers of Christ means growing in giving. To become more like Christ, you must become more generous as he is generous.
It is tempting for us to think of generosity and giving as a label for larger than life heroes like Saint Francis or Mother Teresa. But it’s not so. Nearly every moment of every day we have opportunities to give something to someone else. And giving doesn’t require an extraordinary service or heroic virtue, it simply involves thinking of others more.
In our heart of hearts, we all want to be like that; we want to be givers. We want to be remembered as generous people. No one is ever honored for what they received or took from others. People who are honored and remembered fondly are remembered for what they gave. Generosity is the key to joy and happiness. There is joy in giving in a way that benefits others.
While we want to be givers and generous people, we face obstacles to growing in generosity. One obstacle is the sheer instinct for survival: I think of myself first and at the exclusion of everyone else. Because human nature is designed for survival. A second obstacle that flows from the first is a scarcity mentality. I fear there won’t be enough for me! If I give my money or resources then I won’t have enough. If I share a contact to help you then that contact will be less likely to help me. If I give my time to you, I won’t have enough time to get done what I need to get done.
We often think of life in this zero/sum game that generosity DECREASES my own resources. Zero/sum game means one person’s gain is equivalent to another person’s loss. Do we think that way?
I have seen so many people in the church world who have given of themselves to others and just got used up and burned out. It happened to me at one point a number of years ago. I felt like I was giving all I had to give and some people were just taking advantage of me. Maybe we don’t give because we don’t want to be in that position.
In his book Give and Take, best selling author and research psychologist Adam Grant, reports on a research project he undertook of the American workforce. He found that employees, broadly speaking, fell into one of three categories, Takers, Matchers, and Givers. Takers are people who focus on “What’s in it for me?’. Takers like to get more than they give and put their interests ahead of others all the time. Their motto is “You have to look out for number one.” They may help others but only if the benefits outweighed the personal cost. Matchers are described as people who only give as an exchange. I give to you and you give to me. So for these people, it’s a quid pro quo. They are interested in an even exchange. They protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. Givers are people who care more about what they give than what they get. They pay more attention to what people need from them. They share their time, energy, knowledge, skill, ideas, and connections with others who can benefit from them. They look to add value to other people’s lives. Givers look to add value to other people’s lives.
In his research Adam Grant also came to a startling discovery. The highest performers across most every profession, were givers. Matchers and takers went to the middle, or the bottom of the performance scale.
The givers, who were high performers, learned to give wisely. They learned to give while minimizing the costs. We make a mistake in believing that generosity and wisdom or generosity and success or generosity and ambition are opposed to one another. They are not opposites. They go together. Generosity does not always work or seem successful in the short term, but in the span of a lifetime, it can pay great dividends. And when we look at giving in the light of eternity, generosity and giving can pay even greater dividends.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King. The last Sunday of the liturgical year. Our biblical readings this time of year always look to the end of time and the end of the world as we know it now. Today we hear Jesus’ own account of what that end time will look like.
He refers to the Son of Man. The Son of Man is a title that indicates Jesus will one day have authority and power over all the nations. And in that role he will serve as judge of the whole human race. And just how will that judgment work? That’s pretty interesting information to have.
He says he will separate people into two groups. The sheep go to his right. In ancient culture, going to the right, represented the good and honorable place. The goats go to his left which is the place of disfavor and rejection. The sheep are blessed because they gave of themselves to enhance other people’s lives. Jesus greatly rewards the sheep as he says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
Jesus describes acts of giving and generosity that will reap rewards. Which logically prompts the question from the righteous, the people represented by the sheep. They ask Jesus, When did we enhance your life Lord? Jesus answers with that famous line, whatever you did for my others, you did for me.’
Over and over again Scripture teaches us that there are rewards for giving. Because, when we give to others, it is giving to God. It’s not LIKE giving to God, it IS giving to God.
There are certainly opportunities to do this, all around us, all the time, especially when it comes to our support for things like outreach and Catholic Charities. But even more than that, others around us are in need of: attention, encouragement, kindness, recognition, inclusion, courtesy, civility, cheer, praise, promotion, wisdom, insight, correction, and direction.
The parable in the gospel today ends starkly with a judgment in which some are included in the rewards and inheritance of the life of heaven and some are deliberately excluded. A sobering thought for sure, but not one that’s meant to scare us but , rather it is meant to encourage us to give.
The givers, in the act of giving, have achieved the right character for the life of heaven. The takers, in the repeated response of taking, have not. They are excluded from heaven because they have chosen to be excluded. They have chosen to take rather than give.
At this festive season of the year we are more inclined to give to others. The instinct for giving and generosity takes the upper hand, it’s easy and expected. But how about we do more, do the unexpected; be on the lookout for opportunities to be generous as a way of giving to God who rewards our generosity.
Over the next few weeks we are going to work on returning God’s generosity, so that all of us grow to have a generous character. Like God does. Be on the lookout to give to the people around you. Every day when you wake up, ask God to help you to notice the opportunities you have to give, as a way of giving back to God, no matter how big or small.
The Christmas season reminds us that God has not treated us fairly. God has treated us generously. When you unwrap Christmas, that’s what you find. When you unwrap Christmas, you will find God’s generosity.