‘Tis Better to Receive – The Scandal of Christmas

Ever see two people fight to pick up a check?

A meal shared is a lovely thing but then the bill comes and someone has to pay. I’ve seen people go to astounding lengths – leaping across tables, intercepting waitresses, arm wrestling, artful gymnastics, diversion and trickery – all in order to be the one who picks up the tab.

I suppose that sometimes these theatrics are performed out of love and a desire to serve but I suspect that more often it comes from a prideful and self-serving place in the participant’s hearts. It feels good to be a giver. There is a certain amount of power and pride involved in giving.

Another version of this occurs through hostessing. Have you ever known a person who volunteers to host a holiday meal and simply refuses to let anyone else contribute? No, they don’t need you to bring anything. No, they need no help in the kitchen – you just sit and enjoy yourself. Yes, of course, this is sooo much work but no, everyone just shoo out of my kitchen, I have it all under control.

Again, this can be done from a heart of love and service but often it seems more like control and a desire to be the biggest giver in the room. Why? Because giver is the position of honor. To be in a position to give is to be in a position of strength.

Which is why we refuse to acknowledge that Christmas is all about receiving.

Matthew and Luke tell the story of Jesus from His human birth but John begins a little earlier in the story – “in the beginning”. He takes us back to the very formation of the earth and reminds us that without Jesus nothing was made that has been made. That, in fact, in Jesus is life and that life is the light of all men. Jesus is the DNA of the universe.

Then John tells us what Jesus’ coming was all about. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

The message of Christmas is this – we will never pick up the check at God’s table.

He gives. We receive. He is Tom Brady. We are Randy Moss. We will never throw the long pass; we will never have the football first. We will never call the plays. It is our position to keep our eyes on the one with the ball and receive the pass.

John also says, “From the fullness of His grace, we have all received one blessing after another.” He is the giver and we are the receivers. Glory to God in the Highest.

That simple message is as offensive as it gets to many people. God is hosting a great feast and we ask what we can bring and He says – nothing. In fact, if you try to bring something of your doing, you’ll be instructed to leave it at the door. When you enter into His feast, you enter ready to receive.

In Japan, when a person sits to eat, he or she takes a moment and says “Itadakimasu” which means “I humbly receive this to myself.” That is the spirit of Christmas.

I suppose that’s why Jesus’ birth was announced to those who knew they were not in a position to give – an elderly priest and his barren wife, a carpenter and his young bride who couldn’t even find a room for a night, shepherds in a field working as others slept surrounded by comfort and warmth. And the one person who took the news of Jesus’ birth badly was the most powerful person in the land – King Herod. He knew what was being threatened here – his position, his power, his place on the throne. The king does not RECEIVE because the king needs nothing from anyone. How scandalous to propose that the king should need to receive anything!

Jesus came to tell us that we are only passing through this world and that what works for us here will not work for us always. We will one day enter a land where the currency we used on earth is no good – be it the currency of money or virtue or intelligence or good works or power or position or earthly wisdom.

We will stand at a gate and we will say – “Look at all I have to give!” – and we will be told “All of that may be worthy of reward on the other side of this gate but first, we’re not interested in what you have to give, we want to know what you have received.” In other words, you’re money’s no good at this gate. Your goodness is no good at this gate. Your knowledge is no good at this gate. The only thing that unlocks this gate is something you could only have received from Jesus – His gift of salvation.

If you have been a receiver, you may enter in and then the rest will be sorted and weighed. If you refused to receive, then entrance is denied and everything else is worthless.

This is not an easy message. This is not poetry for Hallmark cards at the holidays. This is why the day of Jesus’ coming was not only a beautiful day but it was also one of strife and anguish.

The true spirit of Christmas is not giving but receiving – have you received what was given on that day or, like Herod, are you worried about giving up your place on the throne of your life? You can choose to rule your own kingdom here on earth or gain entrance to one that is eternal – what choice will you make?

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    The Conversation

  1. Andrea says:

    You have an award on my blog.

  2. Thank you, Andrea. You’re a kind friend.

  3. Mike (of course) says:

    I thought He was Vince Young and we are Kenny Britt!


  4. Vince who? Kenny who? 🙂 Are you saying I should broaden my analogies?

  5. Cheri says:


    You said: “The true spirit of Christmas is not giving but receiving – have you received what was given on that day or, like Herod, are you worried about giving up your place on the throne of your life?”

    Even after I accepted Christ, I was still on the throne of my life in so many ways I didn’t yet realize. In fact, I believe God allowed me to be on bedrest for three months during one of my pregnancies, for the express purpose of learning to receive. Friends from church came with meals, cleaned my house, watched my son… for three months!

    Prior to this circumstance, I was always on the team of folks bringing meals to someone’s home or helping with childcare, but I’d not had to partake of their kindnesses for myself. At first it was humiliating to be the “needy” one, but as I began to realize what God wanted me to learn from it, it was an amazing experience of seeing God’s love for me in action.

    Great post!


  6. Jennifer says:

    I never thought about being “at the gate” and needing to show what we received – I never thought about it in those terms – always what I believe, not what I’ve received. I really like this new way of thinking of it! Thanks!

  7. Living Water says:

    It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and giving does not need to be in the form of gifts or picking up the bill. It can be giving a hand, being present to help and to care.

    I believe in giving more than receiving, yet I will not refuse to receive when given. As a principle, however, all of us should not expect anything in return when we give (Matthew 6:1-4), nor show superiority or power or make people feel they owe us a favor.

    I agree with you that Christmas is all about receiving more than giving. It is about we receiving the Lord, and God giving to us His all when He sent His Son to this earth to save us.

    My prayer for this Christmas is therefore that all of us have in our hearts the understanding of the true meaning of Christmas, and to those who do not know Jesus, that we be God’s instrument to bring them to receive Him as Lord and Savior as they and all of us celebrate Christ’s birth this Christmas.

  8. Thank you, Ed. The title was slightly tongue-in-cheek. It is better to give than to receive unless your giving is an act of pride or an attempt to control. The point of the blog is that all our giving is worthless until we have received the gift of salvation from Jesus.

  9. Fancy Nancy says:

    I have seen people fight for the check,but I have also seen others duck from the check. It takes all kinds in this world. I am still having fun with my blog which may eventually lead to a new book called , The Adventures of Fancy Nancy. Who knows what blogging can lead to? Thanks for all your help and Happy Holidays. An Admirer!