For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
We are very familiar with the verse. We are so familiar that we miss the wonder of the message: For God so loved the world that he gave his son…. God gave. At Christmas, in an amazing way, God gave.
We live in a consumerist, transaction based society. We are involved in exchanges all the time. They take at least two different shapes. There are market exchanges where goods or services and currency are swapped. There are also gift exchanges where no type of currency is exchanged.
We can see the difference when we think about a meal. In a restaurant, we order, and we eat. Then the bill comes, and we pay. In a home, a meal is prepared and served, but it would be considered rude to present a bill to the guests. It would be an affront to the host if one of the guests offered to pay for the meal. Meals in a home are about relationship, generosity, and hospitality. At Christmas time, we are reminded that God gave. God gives out of a sense of relationship and generosity. God freely and graciously gives. (See Kester Brewin, Signs of Emergence, Baker: 2007 for more on this thinking.)
We like market exchanges. They make sense to us. Here we have some say. Here there are rules. Here we are in control. We try to squeeze God into this transaction mode too. This God we can understand. This God we can manipulate and squeeze into our boxes. The God of the Bible, the God of Christmas doesn’t play by the rules of the market.
We are surprised and baffled by a God who simply gives. The words of the prophet Isaiah: “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul! Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David” (Isaiah 55:1-3).
A gift is being given for free! No money is needed! It just doesn’t make sense. Still, when we stop long enough to reflect, we are humbled and amazed.
This is the message of Christmas. God gives. We see glimpses of this all around us: a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a selfless act. These are images of relationship and generosity and hospitality. At Christmas time, and all year long, followers of Jesus marvel at the gift, and then reflect this all for nothing giving to others as well.