Giving and Receiving
I’ve never been very good at receiving presents. I remember the trial of family Christmases as a boy, opening all kinds of inappropriate and embarrassing presents under the eager gaze of assembled relatives, trying valiantly to inject my thank yous with some enthusiasm.
Giving and receiving. There is a short saying attributed to Jesus, not in the gospels but in Acts – ‘There is more happiness in giving than receiving’. A throwaway line which we tend to assume is probably true. Yet is it so much better to give than to receive? It is of the nature of Christian life together, of any healthy life together, that we give to each other and receive from each other. And receiving, being able to receive, lies at the heart of this kind of life. What bothered me as a child – receiving all those awful presents – as it bothers me now is that being able to receive is important, and quite difficult, and yet we live in a culture where receiving is not given true recognition: we tend to judge people by what they give rather than by what they receive. But receiving is crucially important, and we need courage and faith to do it properly because it means losing control a bit, letting go, losing ourselves, putting ourselves at the mercy of other people. It is about being vulnerable.
As we prepare to celebrate another Christmas we are challenged anew to receive that greatest of gifts, the Christ who brings us eternal life. And that gift is, precisely, vulnerability, the vulnerability which lies at the heart of all our giving and receiving – the openness to others, the possibility of being rejected, the danger of manipulation. Yet the Christian message is that out of virtual nothingness, out of a fragile new life, good can and will come, and can and will triumph. It is hard to believe. It is hard to believe that the vulnerability will not be overwhelmed by the brutal reality of existence; that the light will be quenched by darkness. And perhaps that is why we have a tendency to become strident and competitive. But the Christian faith is earthed in vulnerability, it takes root there. It does not take the easy way out and push it to one side but finds its home there, among the doubt and uncertainty. God is to be found in the midst of the world’s confusion of glory and suffering, even in the helplessness and total dependence of a newborn child – perhaps especially there.
Archdeacon of Derby