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Giving, if you let it, will transform your soul. As a spiritual practice, giving breaks the strongholds of fear and worry. When we are generous, we wade into the abundant flow of God’s grace. When we give without thought of what we’ll receive in return, we reflect, with astonishing accuracy, divine generosity. We declare that our fear of scarcity will not rule our lives. We gain insight into how God feels giving to us. Is it possible that he delights in bestowing good gifts on his children?

Our culture, unfortunately, misunderstands giving. We think of it, honestly, as trading. I get you something, you get me something—hopefully we spend about the same amount of money so no one feels awkward. We all know that panicked feeling when a friend shows up at our door in December with a wrapped package in her hand, and we realize we didn’t get anything for them. We now feel we “owe” them a gift. I’ve read helpful holiday tips in women’s magazines that suggest keeping a wrapped stash of generic gifts in your front closet for just such occasions. Kind of takes the meaning out of it, doesn’t it?

Today, read Matthew 2:1-12. Imagine if the wise men had thought this way. Did they ask each other, “I wonder what Mary and Joseph will give us? Do you think they’ll know we got this frankincense on clearance at T.J. Maxx?” Of course not. And did Mary, seeing these strange gifts, think “Okay, gold, that works for me. But spices you normally use for burial? What kind of baby gift is that? And what am I going to get them in return? I know, maybe a gift card!”

Scholars believe the Magi showed up as much as two years after Jesus was born. Though Jesus was born into a very poor family, their gifts were given as worship, for they knew he was a king. Jesus and his family simply received their gifts, without any concern for what they would give back. The Magi, likewise, were unconcerned with reciprocity—it was enough to find and worship a king they’d seen declared in the night sky years before.

In the same way, we can never give something equal in value to God’s Christmas gift—Jesus. He is a gift we must humbly receive. When we realize we cannot pay God back for his gift, we are inspired to be generous to those who cannot repay us.

What if you decided this Christmas to reduce your spending on “stuff trading” so that you could really give? When you give to those who cannot repay or reciprocate, you get to experience a joy that no stuff trading can ever bring.

Here’s some ways to practice real giving this Christmas season:

Buy coats or gifts for under-resourced families. (connect with them through
ministries like,

Open your home to a soldier, refugee or shut-in for a meal, or invite them to a
holiday gathering.

Donate to the Advent conspiracy (see flashback column below) to help build fresh
water wells.

Purchase gifts from organizations that employ the poor like,, or

Make a meal for a family going though illness.

Buy groceries for your local food pantry. Or anonymously leave a bag of groceries
on someone’s doorstep.

Buy a goat, chickens or cow for a poor family in the name of someone on your gift
list through or