So how well do you know me by now?
Chances are it’s not all that well. But the reason is likely to be me. I’m not very good at letting people in. I keep people at a distance, for the most part. I’m one of those introverts who expects a lot from myself but not from others. Who grew up hearing the words “it is more blessed to give than to receive” that appear in the Bible’s New Testament book of Acts (20:35 ). By way of context, that verse involves Paul’s bidding farewell to the leaders of the mid-first century church he planted in Ephesus. But I took it personally, as if Paul was writing to me.
I took on the responsibility even as a child to give unto others and found myself in the early habit of getting close enough to offer my gift but not to then stay long enough, or close enough, to receive anything back in return. Little wonder, then, that others who heard and believed those same words from Paul in the Bible were never able to get very close to me. They, too, were all about giving of themselves and I was all about never letting myself get close enough to receive. Those who would like to have gotten close enough to give me some blessing were kept at arms length instead. So near that I could give something of myself, yet so far they could not have the blessing of giving anything back.
What I’ve noticed over the years is that my closest of relationships, then, have been with those who find themselves on the other end of the equation, believing it is more blessed to receive than to give or else believing they have as little to give as I have to receive. We seem strangely, or not so strangely, drawn to one another.
It is fair enough to note that Paul’s words in Acts 20:35 were misquoting Jesus, who never himself made such a statement. Jesus was rather quick to receive from others and made our human blessings more about receiving, if anything, than about giving. For him, the idea of getting close to people involved equal parts gift and receipt. He set the example of being known as well as knowing, being helped as well as helping. One point Jesus was truly quoted as saying was, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38 NIV).
So why bring up such a topic during the Advent season leading us into the celebration of Christmas?
It is because I wonder if others might not be something like me in this whole department of unChristlike social distancing. I hope not, but just in case others shared my penchant for keeping a safe distance from others who wanted to give what I felt “blessed” to not receive, let me continue.
The Church’s season of Advent is more than just a time to shop for presents or think up suitable gifts for another’s Christmas celebration. More than just a time to “wait upon the Lord.” And it is far more than a season of material and commercial consumption.
Perhaps a lesser told meaning of Advent, and then Christmas itself, is that we shorten the space and lengthen the time we need to share with one another. A time for being so near and NOT so far.
In the Christian tradition, we see God mostly in space at a distance prior to Christmas. Near enough to give but not receive. But Christmas ushered in an entirely new paradigm. God was shortening the space by coming to be with us and then stay around for roughly 33 years starting from a position of total dependency. Then maturing to the point of being able to give and get, speak and listen, on God's behalf. In Jesus Christ, God shortens the space and lengthens the time with humankind.
God came to where we were. And gave us three decades of time. God gave. God received. God came to know us better and love us more. God came to be better known and to be loved more.
The two Christmas stories found in the Bible remind us that poor shepherds were able to give their own presence first, and wealthy royals were able to give their own presents later. Both were acts of knowing the infant God and loving the lamb who would become king. Both became near and NOT so far.
The biblical shepherds and so-called “wise men” came near enough and stayed long enough to receive as well as to give. They became known as well as knowing.
Tis the season, I now hope, when we might all come closer and stay longer. When we might all overcome a tendency like my own to come only near enough to give but then leave before receiving. When we, like the Christ-child, might become so near and NOT so far.
If you wish to know me better or feel better known by me, I'm at 937-475-2357. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I'll be happy to spend more time with you.