International Ministries

The Give-Away Challenge

December 19, 2015 Journal
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It was the second Sunday of Advent, and I was sitting in church enjoying a Celtic version of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”  My body was enraptured by the tenor as he paced the haunting melody to perfection, his voice harmonizing brilliantly with the soprano beside him.  My eyes were cast down allowing the music to sweep over me.  And then, in one of those annoying, totally inappropriate moments, my ego whispered, “Hey, have you noticed that your entire outfit came from three different thrift stores?”  Does this ever happen to you—in church?  A sacred moment derailed as your mind is distracted by several different, totally unrelated thoughts? 


And it worked!  But in a way I didn’t anticipate.  Part of me continued to listen to the music, while another part of me acknowledged that my slacks, my shirt, and my sweater were all possible because someone else had decided to give them away.  Even my jewelry had been gifts.  Strangers had given things away so I could be clothed.  People I love had gifted me with pieces of jewelry so that I could receive joy and beauty.  A rose leaving traces of its scent.  The song and the giving of gifts began to merge into this creative reflection.


Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!


During the Christmas season we give away toys, food baskets, cookies, gifts . . . do we ever stop and consider what this give-away truly signifies?  Is it out of obligation?  I receive a gift so I must give one in return.  Is it out of respect?  I honor this person because of what he/she shares with me.  Is it because I’m caught up in tradition?  I’ve always given gifts at Christmas, and I can’t imagine doing it differently.  Is it out of guilt? I’ve wronged someone and this is a way to make me feel better, to soothe ruffled feathers.   Is it out of love?  I give from my heart with no strings attached. Does the significance of the gift change if it’s given by a stranger as opposed to someone I know? 


My thrift store ensemble was possible because others chose to let go of something old, so that it could become something new for me.  I was thankful to be clothed by their generosity.  I was thankful for whatever prompted them to clean out their closets!  I was thankful to have more than one outfit when so many do not.  I was thankful to be warm and covered.


It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter.


In Native tradition, when a person is called to a place of honor, they do not receive gifts.  They give gifts.  This expectation is the reverse of what is common in European-based cultures.  To receive gifts would be a focus on the individual, on the “I” instead of the “we.”  Native people give back to the community on their honoring day to keep the focus on kinship, on the eternal “we” of community.[i]  Our son Aaron graduated from college on December 10.  If we had been Native American, then it means we as his parents and, Aaron himself, would have presented a gift to all those who came to celebrate with us.  (Blankets, baskets and beadwork are given in the Native tradition.) 


I found this to be a brilliant, life-giving idea!  I began to ponder it in regards to Christmas.  I often think, “I really don’t need anything else in terms of worldly possessions.  What if this was less about me receiving things, and more about giving to those who had legitimate need?”  Or, just giving for the sake of blessing others with joy!  To me this is more than donating to provide a basket to a hungry family for a holiday meal.  Instead, how do I help sustain life all year round?  Am I committed to my community 24/7, or just when it’s convenient and anticipated?


To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, when half spent was the night.


Anticipating the birth of Jesus is all about God’s great give-away.  God gave his son to humanity, to live with us on earth.  Why?  For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.  God loves us!  Desires us.  Wants to walk, to laugh, to suffer, to eat, to sleep, to learn, to seek justice, to be angry, to heal, to see beauty, to experience friendship—with us, humanity, here on earth.  God’s love wasn’t for just one person, but for the entire community.


But it’s hard to hold on to this message of God’s love when we let fear overtake us.  And there is so much fear, suspicion, anxiety, and grief in our world these days.  Instead of giving love away, as God modeled to us and for us, we cling tighter to what we already have, afraid someone might snatch it from us when we’re not looking.  And in this place of dis-ease, we regard others with mistrust, even hate, and say, “I’m sorry, there’s no room at the inn.”


How Christ the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.


Advent revolves around the words hope, peace, joy, and love with Christ at the center.  Colossians 1:17 says this about Jesus, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  If the light of Christ is at the center of our lives, holds us together no matter what, then what are we able to give away?  When we step through fear (False Evidence Appearing Real), then our anxiety and misgivings have trouble finding a foothold. Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the fruit of the Spirit.  If we belong to Jesus, then this fruit should be growing, maturing in our lives.  And what happens to mature fruit?  It is picked and shared within the community to sustain life and health!  During these last days before Christmas, what if you gave away a fruit of the Spirit?  How would it change you?  How would it change those around you?


The Give Away Challenge:

            December 20: Love, Joy

            December 21: Peace, Patience

            December 22: Kindness, Goodness

            December 23: Faithfulness, Gentleness

            December 24: Self-Control


“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  (Colossians 3:12-14)


This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.[ii]



[i] The Four Vision Quests of Jesus by Steven Charleston, Morehouse Publishing, 2015, page 88.

[ii] Lyrics from “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” as read on