During the season of Advent we are having conversation about the old axiom “tis better to give than to receive.” During the holiday season a number of us practice generosity in the form of gifts that we give away to others. We are spending time trying to view this from a different angle.
Some of you know that my wife is a manufacturer’s sales representative for the toy industry. She calls on all of the specialty toy stores here in Kansas City and in the state of Kansas. She reps for well over 100 different product lines and we have the samples to prove it! Each fall her and a couple of other reps in this area hold a sample sale (this year’s has already come and gone…sorry!) During the sale folks come through and they get really great deals on name brand toys for all ages! It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun. The last two years they decided to sell everything half off during the last 30 minutes of the sale. A young man (under 40 is considered young in my dictionary) has come to the sale the last 2 years. He gets there early so he can shop for his two small kids and he spends a couple hundred dollars in the process. He gets some great toys at really great prices. But then about 45 minutes before the sale ends he reappears and at the 30 minute mark he starts going through what is left and builds a pile. I thought he was back to buy more for his kids but he was piling up dozens of the same item. I asked him who he was buying for and he said “these are going to Toys for Tots.” This year he bought over $600 dollars worth of stuff (at half off he paid $300) and gave it all away to under privileged kids. What an amazing and inspirational act of generosity. I suspect he will do the same thing next year.
This is a great story for me – I hope it is for you as well. But I’m going to stretch the application a little. I think God is inviting us to give away more than just gifts – God wants us to give away pieces of ourselves especially to Him.
A young maid named Mary was given by her father to be married to a man named Joseph. It was the period between the agreement on the marriage contract and the actual moving into her husband’s home. One night the angel, Gabriel came calling. Gabriel spoke to the young virgin girl calling her “favored.” In other words God had picked her, chosen her for a special mission. Mary was “confused and disturbed” (NLT wording) by the news. The angel (by whatever means) sensed the angst within Mary and pressed on with the message. “You are to conceive a child who will be Holy – called the Son of God.” Instead of thinking about the cultural implications (like harm to family reputation, accusation of adultery, breaking of her marriage arrangements, or the possibility of stoning) the author tells us that Mary asked a clarifying question – “how can this be?” The reply is “by the power of the Holy Spirit” which must have been enough for Mary because she gives away her life to God. “Here I am, the Lord’s servant.”
Joseph was the man who was betrothed to the young woman named Mary. They were technically married but did not live together. According to some historians the betrothal year was the time that the man built onto his father’s house. He added on the residence that would be the home for himself and his bride. This makes sense when applied to the timeline of Joseph and Mary’s story. But Joseph receives disturbing news – Mary is pregnant. Use your informed imagination – Joseph had to feel angry, disturbed, and even betrayed by the news. But the author of Matthew says that Joseph was a righteous man and instead of publicly disgracing Mary he decides to do things quietly. He plans to break off the marriage contract and find a place for Mary were she will be safe and can have the child, but he won’t be responsible for her. That night Joseph has a dream and the main character is a messenger of God – an angel. The angel tells Joseph to go ahead and marry the young woman because the child that she is carrying is of the Holy Spirit. And then he is instructed to name the child Jesus when he is born. In ancient near eastern culture a married man had certain assumed rights. First is that he would be the one to sire all of the children that would be born of the union. Second that he could name each of the children, especially the first-born son! Guess what God asked of Joseph? He asked Joseph to give away his rights – to sire the son Mary carried and to name him. Joseph said “yes.”
We can certainly give away material things this year and even be generous in doing so but I believe God wants a different gift this year. God wants us to willing give to Him the rights over our lives. To allow His will to superintend our own; for us to give more of our time, our talent and our treasure to His work in the world than our own little kingdoms. And that we be “willing participants.” I do not believe that God forces himself upon us. We have the freedom of our will to act upon the invitation that God give to us – “come and participate with me in the transformation of this world.” And God is waiting for us to respond – “Here I am, the Lord’s servant.”
I am not sure how many of us know some of the technical details of the story that Luke tells. It was a common practice in the Roman empire for slaves to be trained in the medical arts. Based upon several different factors and references it is reasonable to presume that Luke was a doctor and therefore a slave. The Greek word that the writer uses for “servant” is the same word for “slave.” Based upon our 20th and 21st century history and cultural revulsion against slavery we reject the notion of this kind of relationship with God. But indentured and abusive servitude is not what God is inviting us to!
To be a servant or slave of God simply means that we go about our day looking for what God is doing in the world and the ways in which we can be an active participant in his work. We willing, consciously, and intentionally live our lives for God’s mission and purposes first! The issue is – most of us live for ourselves first and give God little thought.
The invitation is simple – to think about giving away your rights and your life to the vision that God has in mind for you; to become a servant of God! Challenging – absolutely! But it also has eternal implications and rewards that are beyond our ability to imagine or comprehend.
It is a daily journey – one that I am willing to take. How about you? Can you give it away this year?
Blessings for the journey.