December 21, 2015
Its origins are fascinating.
The word isn’t that old – birthed in the 16th Century – but the concept dates from Creation. From Latin – through Middle French – generous meant “of noble birth.” It came to denote one who was magnanimous, unselfish and plentiful. With everything at their disposal, the generous person saw the needs of those who had less – or, nothing – and intervened from abundance. It stands tall alongside its synonyms: benevolent, hospitable, lavish, bountiful, honorable and kindhearted; these deserve certificates and trophies. The antonyms for generosity – greedy, inattentive, inconsiderate, malevolent, thoughtless, small, selfish, miserly, stingy – are the worst of descriptions one could hear of themselves.
This week, much will be done – and, many gifts will be passed – in the name of generosity. Sadly, our culture has arrived in a place where words don’t mean so much, and titles can be assumed without challenge by those who fail to really qualify. What does generosity really look like, in action?
The details of the Advent are the contribution of Matthew and Luke; the ethos behind the drama is offered by John’s meaningful headline statement, perhaps the oft-repeated summation concerning the coming of the Christ: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
Nothing will ever portray generosity more powerfully than the reality of the Incarnation: God – the imminent entity in the universe – had no debts to satisfy or favor to curry. He did not procure flashy trinkets or even valuable commodities to distribute to His creation: instead, He gave His Son – One of a kind, without equal or replacement – as a gift, to a race in rebellion. The powerful incentive that drove the decision to follow-through with their plan that had predated Creation: love. Used – by God, and by us – to describe that highest of emotions can be felt… but, when joined with generosity, the feeling gains tangibility that registers with all of the senses. Generosity is no stranger to love.
God is not “of noble birth;” even in His entry in Bethlehem, there was nothing regal about His human circumstances. The generosity of heaven did not trace to privilege in lineage; its genesis is in the heart of the Holy One.
But, today, His family – adopted through the exercise of faith – are of noble (re)birth, and have been called to emulate our Heavenly Father in modeling His generosity as a new and powerful way of life. The Father gave His Son – generously – with no means to replenish the vacuum that was left in Glory during the 33 years He was gone. There was an empty seat at the table of the Trinity…
Our generosity is far less costly: we give our best, knowing it will be restocked from the reserves of Heaven: “God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, ‘He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out.’ This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-11, from The Message)
Caution to the winds. Reckless abandon. Extravagant. Full-formed. Robust. Wealthy in every way. Those are words that I want to come to mind when my name is in play today; those are qualities I long for my eulogizers to use someday, when my days here are remembered.
What a week to exercise the quality that our Eternal Family uses to portray our Heavenly Father to an increasingly needy world…