29 December, Saturday – The Spirit of Giving

Dec 29 – Memorial for St. Thomas Becket, bishop, martyr

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1 John 2:3-11

We can be sure that we know God
only by keeping his commandments.
Anyone who says, ‘I know him’,
and does not keep his commandments,
is a liar,
refusing to admit the truth.
But when anyone does obey what he has said,
God’s love comes to perfection in him.
We can be sure that we are in God
only when the one who claims to be living in him
is living the same kind of life as Christ lived.
My dear people,
this is not a new commandment that I am writing to tell you,
but an old commandment
that you were given from the beginning,
the original commandment which was the message brought to you.
Yet in another way, what I am writing to you,
and what is being carried out in your lives as it was in his,
is a new commandment;
because the night is over
and the real light is already shining.
Anyone who claims to be in the light
but hates his brother
is still in the dark.
But anyone who loves his brother is living in the light
and need not be afraid of stumbling;
unlike the man who hates his brother and is in the darkness,
not knowing where he is going,
because it is too dark to see.

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Luke 2:22-35

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

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Whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked

Christmas season brings out the best, and also the worst in us. I was at Orchard Road (a prime shopping area in Singapore) over the weekend, and was caught in a massive jam coming out of Orchard, squeezed from left and right by the throng of Christmas shoppers and tourists. Cars were honking at each other, shoppers were colliding into each other with shopping bags and strollers, families were at loggerheads trying to determine what presents to buy… and we haven’t even covered what happens at home with the decorations and preparations for Christmas dinner! What a stressful period!

Shopping malls blare at you that this is the “season of giving” to tempt us into buying presents for everyone and their aunt. This is ‘guilt giving’, not the ‘spirit of giving’. If we want to look into what really is the spirit of giving, perhaps we should examine John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” God’s giving is borne out of LOVE – a deep, deep love for us that is so unconditional that even when we have failed Him, He takes us back in His arms. A love that knows no bounds and asks no questions. His love for us is epitomized in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It is slow to anger, keeps no record of wrongs. It is not self-seeking, nor will it fail.” God is putting into words what love for one another should feel like. It is not that He is never angry, but that He loves us enough to set His anger aside (remember when Abraham begged for Sodom?). God is Love, and that is how God wants us to love one another. If we are in the right spirit of love, then we are in union with God, for it is the most important commandment of all: Love one another. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” said Jesus in John 13:34-35.

As I write this, we are about 2 weeks to Christmas. Even as I wander the corridors of the heavily decorated shopping malls with Christmas carols ringing in my ears, it does not evoke anything ‘Christmas-y’ in me. As I write this, the reason is clear to me. For all of us out there who are still feeling like “it doesn’t feel like Christmas”, this I say to you — Christmas is about giving out of love. Not the kind of commercial giving as we know it, but an outpouring of love for someone from our hearts. We feed the hungry and give to the poor not for tax-deduction purposes or the ‘obligatory’ annual charitable act (or worse, guilt-manipulation!), but because we feel for the hungry, the forgotten, the unloved. We shelter the cold because we want them to feel the warmth of love, we visit the downtrodden because we know they too need the human touch. At home, we want to cook for those we love because we love them and want to provide for them. We want the joyous feel and the close bonds of a family gathered together, the laughter in the house, the smiles and the hugs. It doesn’t come to us, we evoke these feelings for them, and we evoke them out of love. If we claim to be disciples of Jesus, then let us love as he loves us. Let us give as God gives, with purpose in our giving, and put some love into it. For according to Victor Hugo, it is in loving another person that we see the face of God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we approach the start of a new year, we pray to continually fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit, that we may give of ourselves a love to others as You have given to us.        

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for loving us first and loving us always, even when we have failed You. Thank you for not keeping score, for being patient with us, for being gentle and kind. Thank you for loving us even when everyone else has left us.

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