I wonder how Christmas instead of Easter became the season for a gift exchange. I suspect it has something to do with the timing of Christmas with year-end sales figures in a commercial society. That’s only a theory and you can ask my dear wife about some of the theories I float.
Here’s another theory about Christmas and Easter. When the Son of God came down from heaven and took on human flesh, the gift-giving was in one direction: from God to us. “From God’s fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). In the trickle-down economics of the Kingdom of God, this grace comes to us so that it might flow through us. And so, we give to one another.
Easter, on the other hand, confesses a gift exchange in two-directions: from Christ to us; from us to Christ. The results are not initiallypretty. Jesus came forgiving sins and
demonstrating the power of His Word in teaching, healing, and destroying the works of the devil. Humanity responded by knowing Him not, receiving Him not, and coronating Him with a crown of thorns and a throne of wood and nails. On the third day, the Father raised His Son victorious over the “gifts” we had given Him. The Risen Christ reigns in a New Kingdom and Creation beyond sin, death, devil, and legal gift exchanges!
At Christmastime we celebrate God’s gracious arrival and sing with the shepherds, wise ones, and random drummer boys who greet their newborn king. There is joy, anticipation and hope for the new thing. Gifts overflow. At Eastertide, however, we confess that humanity is none too keen on giving their lives to a Messiah like Jesus. Such gifts are too costly.
What Luther Says
Luther counsels a perplexed and doubting friend, teaching how Christ overcomes our gift-giving dilemma:
“Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say: “Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou has taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.” Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners. On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will see his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness.”
At great cost Christ has made a “happy exchange” for us and for our salvation. With this knowledge we may celebrate Christmas in April and receive God’s gifts with open hands.