December -- 2018
When I think back on fabled Christmas traditions, the TV Santa comes to mind, struggling to make his way down the chimney with a large belly and an even larger bag of toys. Once in the living room, he is delighted to find a tall glass of milk and a couple cookies in plain sight for him to consume to replenish his energy.
Then there is the true story of blessed Sybil Gibson who as she weakened and made her way closer to the kingdom of heaven, she collected things she loved and invited friends over for tea. She invited each to pick a gift to take home. Some gifts she pre-selected for friends; others had a choice.
Here are thoughts offered on gifts given and received by blessed Fred Craddock, who, like Sybil Gibson, has risen in glory.
This is the season when we are reminded that giving and receiving are one act, not two. Of course, for practical purposes, we divide them. For example, there are times when it is important to stress that it is more blessed to give than receive. At other times, attention is given to receiving. The church devotes four weeks (Advent) to prepare to receive the Christ child. But receiving without giving can be selfish, just as giving without receiving can be condescending. The New Testament understands this by offering one word for generosity (giving) and the same word for gratitude (receiving). That word is Grace.
I have a vivid memory of giving and receiving as one beautiful act. The occasion involved my late sister, Frieda. When her long battle with cancer was coming to a close, she sent word to friends to come by for a gift. Over the years she had received gifts from them: a vase, a wall hanging, a painting, silver tableware, and so on. When the friends arrived, she gave to each the gift that she had once received from that friend. I was stunned and embarrassed. We had been taught from childhood that you do not return gifts: you keep them, you prize them.
I stationed myself outside so that I could explain to the friends that Frieda was not ungrateful. This was so out of character for her. It must be her cancer or the medication. As the first friend came out of the house, I began my painful apology, only to be interrupted. “Oh, no; this is the most wonderful gift I have ever had. It is twice blessed; it has been both given and received. What could be more beautiful?”
This story gives a lovely new color to our Christmas giving and receiving.