“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
— John 3:16
Tis the season for gift-giving, an ancient tradition that originated in a foreign land. But as might be expected, sometimes the meaning and origins are lost over the years and in the translation.
Americans live in a land of plenty. Indeed, Americans are blessed with more of just about everything worth having than any other culture, today or ever before. Amid this cornucopia of health, wealth, freedom and opportunity, we rightly recognize the role that has been played by self-interest. As Adam Smith so brilliantly observed centuries ago, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”
But tis the season for gift-giving. And these gifts, strictly speaking, are things freely given, without obligation or expectation. Or gain.
This is one of the many lessons of the season, as Christians gather to worship and pray and otherwise celebrate the greatest gift ever given. It was and is a gift completely undeserved by those who receive it, with an entirely selfless motive by the giver.
The child whose birth is celebrated this season later told his followers that he came “to give his life a ransom for many.” In fact, he came to die in order that others shall live. Who among us in this land so blessed with possessions and liberty can even imagine the magnitude of such a gift?
It has always been difficult to grasp the kind of selflessness that places the welfare of others first, but especially so when the price paid by the giver is death.
One follower explained that scarcely would a person give his life, even for a righteous man. Nevertheless, he added, “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we’re still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The immeasurable cost of this unimaginable gift is staggering to the modern mind, just as it was to the ancients. Yet today we continue to celebrate the season of gift-giving that it inspired two millennia ago. “Freely you have received, freely give,” his followers were instructed.
That’s why his followers urged us all to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Tis the season for gift-giving. Partake.