Four candles lit. Can you believe it?

The season of Advent will soon be fulfilled. Christmas is near. And I am so pleased to share these words from my friend Allison. A fellow writer and gardener, Alison and I met at church. When I say thank you for the many good gifts I have received since moving to Pennsylvania, Allison is always near the tippy-top of that long list. I love being able to introduce you to her today.




Why Christmas is Not About Giving

Sometimes I really hate getting gifts.

It’s not the gifts themselves I hate. It’s the getting part.

You know the feeling. Your co-worker unexpectedly gets you a Christmas gift, and you can’t hide the fact that you never intended to get one for her. Or your friend buys you an expensive present that you love, and you wonder if you spent enough money and effort to get him a comparable gift.

Sometimes I love giving gifts more than getting them. I get excited about brainstorming creative gift ideas for family and friends—homemade food items or crafts, books I know they’ll like, fair trade gifts, something fancy they couldn’t justify buying for themselves, or something they didn’t know they wanted. I can’t wait to see their faces when they unwrap what I got them and see just how well my gifts fit who they are. I even get a little jealous if they gush over something that someone else got them.

As much joy as I get from giving, it can be a distraction. It can even be selfish. “[E]veryone, even the nominally religious, loves Christmas. Christmas is a season to celebrate our alleged generosity,” writes William Willimon in “Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.”

Giving involves power. I love to be the strong one who tips well, who feels good about writing the big check for the soup kitchen, who tries to do more than my fair share of listening to and helping my friends, who doesn’t mind spending a little extravagantly to get my family what they really want. I want them to be indebted to me, maybe even dependent on me. They usually appreciate my gifts, but even if they don’t, I get to feel useful and generous.

For me, Christmas is too often an opportunity to secure a little more power in my relationships through giving. But Christmas isn’t about using gifts to gain power. It isn’t even about using gifts to express love for people.

Willimon puts it bluntly: “We prefer to think of ourselves as givers—powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are.”

Christmas is about receiving the gift of God Himself. In this relationship, we have no power at all. We are embarrassingly needy, dependent on the generosity of another. We are forever in His debt with no hope of reciprocating. We now have the costliest, most precious gift imaginable—God’s gift of His very self. A gift we despised and rejected, because we were too proud to admit we needed it.

This lesser-known Christmas carol reminds us of just how much Christ gave—and gave up—for us:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love’s sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.

He impoverished Himself, left the glories of heaven, came down to our level, spent all He had on us so that we, through His poverty, might become rich.

So in the remaining days before Christmas, set aside those glittering gifts. Open your hands. See how empty they are. As empty as a virgin’s womb. Now stretch out your hands toward the manger. Receive the Christ child, and the wealth of His love, into your arms.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Yes. And this is why God’s Name is blessed above every other name, for He is the all-powerful Giver. “Hallelujah! Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb.”


Allison Sheeler Duncan is a writer and theology nerd who is learning (slowly) to love receiving gifts as much as she loves giving them. She works as a communications specialist at a university in southeast Pennsylvania, and she enjoys writing in calligraphy, growing heirloom tomatoes, and singing at least some of the right notes in the alto section of her church choir. She blogs at


Pin It on Pinterest