Christmas is a beautiful time of year.  We celebrate the generosity of God who sent His Son to save us.  We reflect God’s generosity by giving gifts and spending time with family and friends.  There often comes a time, however, when we move from that lovely desire to be generous to that burdensome sense of being obligated.  There are the Christmas cards. Should you send them or not? What will people think if they get no card from you, especially if they sent you one?  Then there are the gifts.  Who should get one?  Who did you get gifts from last year?  Did you give them a gift?  Who did you give a gift to, did you get one in return?   Now add on the Christmas parties and dinners.  Who did or did not invite you?  Whose family will you spend Christmas day with?  Maybe you should host Christmas this year, or not?

The desire to be generous and the generosity of others are what feel good about the season.  The sense of obligation is the stressor that makes us feel frantic.  This raises a good question for reflection, not only at Christmas time, but all through the year.  What is the difference between being obligated and being generous?

For some insight, we turn to John the Baptist in the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent (John 1:6-28).  In that passage, John says he is not the light.  His place was to point the way to Jesus who is the light.  Being obligated is needing to be the light and trying to prove it to others.  Being generous is knowing that we are not the light and living good lives just the same. Being obligated is doing things out of fear of letting others down. Generosity is knowing what our limits are and loving anyway.

John could live with his limits.  He knew that his baptism with water was inferior to Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit.  He knew he had to leave some things to God.  We behave from obligation when have to meet every need, when no situation can be left unresolved.  We live from generosity when needing the approval of others gives way to confidence that God is with us.  In this season of grace may our voices cry out to grow toward such generosity.