So, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your
brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar
and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your
Matthew 5: 23-24
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name
of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the
gift of the Holy Spirit.
Many people will spend a lot of time this month figuring out who they will
give gifts to, and what they will give to these people. However, we
probably won’t spend as much time reflecting on how to give a gift. Gifts
should be given with joy. No one wants to “give” out of obligation. In
fact, “giving” out of obligation isn’t “giving” at all. It’s “paying.” For
instance, I don’t “give” or “gift” my taxes to the government. I pay them.
Gifts should be given with joy. Gifts should also be given without anything
expected in return. “Giving” with expectation of return is called
“exchanging.” This is why it’s appropriate that in many places, there is a
“gift exchange” rather than gift giving, so that there is an advertised
expectation of an exchange. To truly give is to expect nothing in return,
to just give for the joy of giving, and out of love to the person to whom we
are giving something.
Let’s talk specifically about giving gifts to God. Our gifts to God come in
two types. There is the gift given specifically to God, and there is the
gift of serving our neighbor, which in turn honors God who gave us the
commandment to love our neighbor. Gifts specifically to God include things
like prayer, worship, and obedience to His commandments. Gifts to others
include anything we freely offer in service to others. That could be time,
talent, treasure, encouragement, empathy, anything that is helpful that is
given without expectation of return.
Today’s reflection has two Bible quotes that have to do with giving. The
first is from Matthew 5:23-24. Jesus tells us in this passage “If you are
offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has
something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first
be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. We see
this embodied in the Divine Liturgy, when the clergy exchange the “kiss of
peace.” (This used to be done by laity as well but fell into disuse because
it was not being done properly.) The clergy embrace one another as an act
of humility and forgiveness. After all, what good it is to offer the Holy
Gifts and be mad at anyone? It actually doesn’t do much good at all. This
models how Godly giving is done. It is done in love and love is not
possible in its fullest extent when one has been wronged. There needs to be
reconciliation and that is preceded by humility. We need to be reconciled
to our brother in order to truly “give” to him.
The second verse today is about giving to God. In Acts 2:38, Peter says to
the disciples and the people, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in
the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall
receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” When we offer our repentance, then we
receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. So, maybe this goes into the exchange
category rather than the giving category. However, we can never exchange
anything equally to God. His capacity to forgive will always be greater
than our capacity to repent. When we offer our repentance to God, He
overwhelms us with mercy.
The greatest gifts we have ever received from the Lord involved humility.
Christ condescended to be incarnate in the flesh, to become like one of us.
He left His throne in heaven and traded it for a manger among animals. He,
Who created everything, came into this world as a baby and had to learn to
walk and talk like us. What a humble gift! And then there is the gift of
dying for us. Nothing can be more humble than that!
Our gifts to one another should be offered with humility, expecting nothing
in return from them, knowing that when we give to someone that we receive a
reward from God. Every gift should be offered with joy, with gratitude to
the Lord that we have something to give. Every gift should be given with a
sense of respect, not only for the person to whom we are giving, but out of
respect for the Lord who gave the ultimate gifts to us.
Lord, thank You for the greatest gifts You could ever give to us-a life on
this earth, Your Incarnation when You became one of us, and Your death which opened up the door to Paradise. Help me to be humble in offering gifts to others, expecting nothing in return. Help me to find joy in giving to others. And help me to always remember that any gift I have to offer is nothing compared to the great gifts You have given to us. Amen.
In Acts 20:35, Paul is speaking to a group of elders and says to them, among
other things “In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must
help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is
more blessed to give than to receive.'” This verse will help us stay humble
as well as purposeful in our giving to one another this Christmas season and