Manger, crown of thorns, and Bible
December 11, 2023

Receiving the Gift –Week Four: Why Did You Give Me This?

Reformed Worship offers these daily meditations by Rebecca Tellinghuisen, that worship planners and pastors can distribute to their congregations or engage with personally as a touch point during a very busy liturgical season. Advent 2023 will feel shorter this year because the fourth Sunday of Advent falls on December 24, the day before Christmas. Because of this tight schedule, the editors recommend using Week 1 readings beginning November 27 as a preparation for Advent. If you follow that schedule, these readings would be for the week beginning Sunday, December 17.

Another unexpected gift: If you are using these devotionals you may be interested in the corresponding Christmas Eve service, “The Unexpected Gift” found on page 43 of Reformed Worship 149, and also available for free on the web.

Whether you use this devotional series or make use of some other resource, may you find time to rest and receive God’s gift to you.

WEEK 4: Why did you give me this?

Not all gifts are good gifts. A gift can be inappropriate or even hurtful. It might be intentionally so or just insensitive. Whether it leaves the receiver feeling wounded or simply puzzled, the inner dialogue might be the same: Why would that person give me this? What is that person saying about me with this? What does that person think of me?

Maybe the gift isn’t the issue. The gift may reflect a crack in a relationship or a total fracture. If we are already inclined to think poorly of people, primed to be suspicious of their motives, then we’ll struggle to receive anything from them.

A gift might also be like a burden, an expectation. Have you ever received a gift and thought, “Okay, so what do you want from me now?” Maybe it’s your culture or habit to give a gift when one is given, and you take great delight in that. But that tradition of reciprocity does still involve a sense of obligation for a gift. And if you were to receive without giving, would that bother you?

Gifts aren’t given in a vacuum. They always happen in the context of a relationship whether it’s parent and child, two best friends, or a church member and the “6-year-old girl” on an Angel Tree card. There is always a connection between giver and receiver. And there is always intention. If the intention is to bless (recall God’s call to Abraham), then we will keep giving in order to keep blessing. Call it “spiritual re-gifting.”

Re-gifting is when you take an unwanted or unneeded present and give it to someone else. It might be done the honest way where it’s acknowledged as a re-gift when presented. That’s a more socially appropriate way than passing it off as your own thought and action (“Look what I got for you!”) Re-gifting might not be right in the eyes of etiquette experts, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to pass along a good gift. Spiritually speaking, it’s a necessity. We can only give what we have already received.

Sunday: Focus this week on the gifts we receive that we might also be givers.

On this Advent Sunday, remember this first:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:4–9).

Our faith that Jesus is the Son of God who came to us to break the power of sin and death and reconcile us to our Heavenly Father is ALL a gift. How could it be otherwise? We bring nothing to the table to make us worthy.

We offer nothing in exchange to make it fair.

It's all God.

And it’s all gift.

That said, God’s great gift does come with an expectation. But it’s not one to fear or shy away from because the one who receives the Gift cannot help but be changed. The one who receives the gift of the Spirit will become a gift-giver—a good giver of good gifts—by producing fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–25).

This week, how might you re-gift these fruits of the Spirit?

Monday: Faithfulness (Psalm 119:89–91; Matthew 25:14–30)

There are so many verses in the Bible that proclaim God’s faithfulness. One who is faithful is trustworthy, speaks truth, and honors commitments. God is forever faithful because he never changes. Humans struggle to be faithful because they are forgetful and fickle. But God has shown us the path of faithfulness; we choose it when we choose to serve God and others.

How has God shown his faithfulness to you? How might you show your faithfulness today?

Tuesday: Kindness (Isaiah 63:7; Luke 10:25–37)

Do you ever watch the news and wonder, why can’t people just be nice? Is it that difficult to be kind? But then it hits you: I get tired. I get mad. I get scared. So, I get it. Everyone “out there” is just like I am. Even when we have kindness in our hearts, it’s sometimes hard to show it. Even to friends and neighbors. And if we’re honest, we don’t always have kindness in our hearts. We need God to put it there and keep it there and help us lead from there, especially with those we don’t see as friends and neighbors.

What act of kindness could you do for someone today?

Wednesday: Patience (Joel 2:13; Ecclesiastes 7:8; James 5:7–8)

In several Old Testament passages, God is described as “slow to anger.” There’s every reason for anger and frustration with such forgetful, stubborn, and rebellious people. (We are not just talking about the Old Testament people here. Remember, the Bible serves as both window and mirror.) The synonym, “longsuffering,” paints the picture, doesn’t it? Patience isn’t always waiting until someone comes around to see things our way. Patience is loving and abiding in that love even when they don’t. And before we lose patience with someone, let us remember how many times we turn to the Lord with our prayers of confession.

Have you lost your patience this week? Been angry? Frustrated? Ask for forgiveness from that person and from God too. What are some ways you might practice patience this week?

Thursday: Peace (John 14:27; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Hebrews 12:14)

Many Christmas cards say, “Peace on earth.” It could be read as a wish, a hope, a prayer. Or it could be read as a statement of fact. Peace came to earth. For those who believe, we do not receive as the world receives. We receive these words as true fact. We receive the peace of Christmas as truth. No, the world is not a peaceful place yet. But Jesus came so that we may be reconciled to God. God is our peace. And through God, we can be people of peace.

What might being a people or a person of peace look like? What might you do today to live as a person of peace?

Friday: Joy (Psalm 16:9–11; Ezra 6:13–22; John 15:11; 2 John 4)

Joy is surely a Christmas word, but moments of joy, joyfulness and rejoicing are everywhere in the Bible. God wants to fill his people with joy. How can we give joy? Smiles, hugs, and encouragement are a good start. But there’s deeper joy in the knowledge that we rejoice in the Lord together. We walk in truth together. We feel that at Christmas, don’t we? Knowing that as we sing “Joy to the world,” there are Christians all around the globe singing it too. Singing it for their corner of the world, but singing it for us too. Their joy for the gift is a gift of joy to us.

How might you share some of that joy with others today?

Saturday: Love (Deuteronomy 7:9; 1 John 4:7–8, 19; Luke 15:11–32)

We started this Advent journey by focusing on God’s great love. And here we are again. What better place to land the weekend before Christmas? Take the time to read through the book of 1 John as you prepare to make him room. Or read the parable of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father who is waiting and watching for the son to return. It’s not just a simple story. It is the picture of perfect love.

Where do you find yourself in these passages? What is God saying to you?

Christmas Day

Today is the day! It’s time to open the gift. It’s time to tear away (and toss away) all that would keep us from receiving it.

 Is it too much compared to your meager offerings? That’s okay, we could never earn it, deserve it, or pay for it.

It’s not your style? No problem—the gift has the power to meet you where you are and transform you into what God has already declared you to be—his beloved child. You don’t have to make that fit into your world. God has already done that by coming to you!

It’s too complicated to understand? “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus tells us exactly who he is and what he came to do.

It’s asking something of you? Yes, you are right. This gift is not for you alone. It must be shared. Just as it was shared with us. Here we are over 2,000 years after that Christmas star first shone in the sky. It’s still shining. God is still at work. And he’s using us, imperfect me and imperfect you. Don’t be tempted to think you have to wrap it all up in fancy paper and ribbons. That’s not how he came to us. He came as a baby in a manger. And even though the Christmas story in Luke 2 starts with mighty Caesar (mighty in his own eyes, at least), it ends with people who look a lot more like me and you, humble shepherds. Can you imagine if they had simply stayed put on that hillside with their sheep as if nothing had happened? No! They did the only thing one could do after such a revelation:

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told (Luke 2:16–20).

The shepherds hurried. They found. They spread the word. And then returned, glorifying and praising God.

That’s how you receive a gift.

On Christmas Day—and every day.

Don’t forget to spend some time today thanking God for this unexpected gift.

Rebecca Tellinghuisen works at Trinitas Classical School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she serves as a Latin teacher, communications assistant, and resident readers theater scriptwriter, having developed a love for turning classic works of children’s literature into twenty-minute plays. She also writes prayers and meditations for her church, Fifth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.