Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 20th December 2020.
We are at a traditional time of giving. For many, giving is more important than receiving, whilst for many others, receiving is more import than giving.
Amongst those in the former category, Christmas is an opportunity for some to indulge in a degree of largesse – generous giving to, particularly, family and friends. For those less well-off, even something quite small can still be given and received as a sincere token of love and friendship.
Amongst the second category will be those less well off than ourselves, less able to give, but grateful for anything received.
How should we approach giving? What does the Bible tells about giving?
Firstly, we are told in the Bible that we should give without expecting anything in return. In the Book of Acts, Ch. 20, St. Luke tells us that we should always be ‘remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ’
Secondly, we should not flaunt our generosity. Jesus said: “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4) I have read that the late actress and comedian Joyce Grenfell always tried to hide her generosity. She once said, “If ever I am rich enough to make generous gestures, let me hide my hand. Let me give freely and my giving take freedom with it”. The TV presenter Clive James once wrote of her: “She was one of the few who actually did good by stealth.”
Thirdly, giving is about focussing on the needs of others rather than on ourselves: “Do not avert your eyes from the needy” (Ecclesiastes 4:5)
In the course of reading around the subject of giving, I came across a poem entitled ‘On Giving’, by a Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran. You can find the prayer on the internet at https://poets.org/poem/giving-0 (the last character is a zero, rather than a capital ‘O’). I recommend that you look it up. It speaks far better about giving than I can ever do. When I read this poem, I felt very humbled by it. Here are a few extracts from it that I particularly liked. Firstly:
“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
This emphasises that true giving should be from the heart.
“There are those who give little of the much which they have—and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.”
This is reminiscent of the story of the widow’s offering in St. Mark’s Gospel: ‘41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”’ This is an example of true generosity.
We all like to receive a nice surprise, an unexpected gift, don’t we? Another extract from Kahlil Gibran’s poem reminds us how an unexpected gift can bring greater joy to both the giver and the receiver:
“It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.”
I wonder if we can each think of someone this Christmastide who is not expecting a gift, but to whom we might bring great joy with an unexpected gift. It may be a member of the family, or an acquaintance, or someone in the parish. Or it may be someone we may never know, by supporting through a charity, for example, those who are wondering what or whether they are going to be able to eat this Christmas.
I pray that whatever you both give and receive this Christmastide amongst those you love, and whatever you may give to the needy whom you will never know, will bring you both joy and peace in equal measure.
And to finish on a note which may bring a smile to your face, I am reminded of something about ‘giving’ from many years back. On the way to Lincoln from Peterborough, on the A15 and not far from Lincoln, there used to be an old pre-war road sign at a junction with the A15. On the wooden arm of the sign pointing west it used to say: ‘To Old Bolingbroke and Mavis Enderby’. And beneath those words some wag once wrote ‘The gift of a son’! Strange that I should recall that as we enter the week when the world will celebrate the gift of a Son!