There are certain values that the Christmas season brings to the surface of our consciousness every year. Generosity is one of them. Christmas is the time best known for the giving and receiving of gifts. What does the Christmas story teach us about generosity?
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him”
The Christmas characters that most personify the giving spirit are the Magi who came to southern Palestine in search of a king worthy of worship.
They were most likely from Mesopotamia, the ancient land of the Chaldeans, the land that produced Abraham. They were students of the stars, which would most likely make them followers of Zoroaster, a 6th-century “prophet,” whose teachings formed the foundation for Zoroastrianism.
We know very little about them – only that there was more than one (Magi is in its plural form), they came from the East, and they brought gifts. That’s the most important thing to remember – they brought gifts.
These Magi, “wise men,” spiritual sages, found something in their own sacred writings that pointed to a king who would be born to the Jews – a king who would be worthy of worship — worthy of their investment of time and money.
So, they began a long and arduous journey to find this king.
Three Things We Learn about Generosity
Here’s what the Magi teach us about the spirit of generosity …
1. You realize that life is not all about you.
The Magi were looking for something (other than themselves) to invest in. They found someone that was worthy of their worship.
I was at Target with my four-year-old granddaughter. She was going through the toy aisles pointing out everything she wanted for Christmas. After she pointed to about a dozen different toys, I told her that she had to choose just one. She looked at me like I was crazy and then continued on her list – “I want this, and this, and this …”
That’s cute when you’re four – not so much when your forty.
Do you ever feel this way? I don’t need anything else. What does that look like? To come to the end of yourself and say – “I don’t need to feed my own self.” Life isn’t all about me.
This is where generosity starts – it must start here because it’s possible to practice “generosity” for all the wrong reasons.
The Apostle Paul warned us about this:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing”
1 Cor. 13:1-3
I can be super “spiritual” – I can have super “faith” – I can even be super “generous” –but, if the motivation is not love then it’s all for nothing. In other words, I can do the “right” thing for all the wrong reasons, and it negates the “right” thing I did.
When you come to the place where you say – Life isn’t all about me – you are starting with a selfless motivation – This is where true generosity starts. But then it continues with this …
2. You desire to make a difference in the world.
When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
There is an intended contrast in the story between Herod and the Magi.
Herod was a paranoid, narcissistic, tyrannical leader. When the Magi arrived at his palace asking for directions, Herod had already killed his favored wife, and three of his sons because he thought they were out to get him.
The Magi arrived in Jerusalem at the end of a long, perilous journey that required great personal and financial sacrifice. Herod was a tiny, petty, soulless human being, fat from his over-indulgences.
It’s a telling comparison. The narrator wants you to see the contrast.
What’s the difference?
Herod couldn’t imagine anything bigger than himself. He couldn’t imagine anything more important than his own needs.
The Magi wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves – something more important than their own temporal needs.
And they understood that their gifts – their material possessions – were simply a stewardship given to them by God. They were a test of faith – what you do with what God has given you is a reflection of your values and faith – what you believe is true.
The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.”
The third and final thing we learn from the Magi is …
3. You give sacrificially and joyfully.
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
The Magi were overjoyed to find the baby. They were hungry to deliver their sacrificial gifts. In the baby, they saw something that was worth their significant investment.
There is this amazing intersection of sacrifice and joy.
Admittedly, it is not always easy to find. The very nature of sacrificial giving involves pain. Pain is seldom something we enjoy. There is, however, a great and joyful reward in giving to something that is greater and bigger than your solitary life.
The sacrifice comes first. The joy follows.
Here is an emotional and compelling example of the power of joy and sacrificial giving. A group of kids from low-income families in the inner city of Atlanta were brought into the Boys and Girls Club and given a choice for Christmas. Their response is priceless and worth 3-minutes of your time to watch!
Blessings on your Christmas journey to Generosity!!