What is a gift? Have you ever stopped to think about that? What is it that makes a gift so wonderful to receive or so fulfilling to give? Think of a time you received a gift and the feeling that welled up inside you. Or recall an instance when you gave and it almost felt like heaven was coming down to meet you personally and profoundly. It’s a universal that seems to transcend the physicality of the action to penetrate the interior of the heart. 

Do you remember the story of the sad Christmas tree? The one who saw all those other magnificent trees being cut down to enjoy the Christmas season in a nice warm house with a loving family. And there he sat, left behind, alone. Of course, throughout the rest of the story we learn that the tree had the most glorious purpose of all. He was destined to be the wood of the cross. The sacrifice that Christ made for us was on the wood of this tree, who initially didn’t realize the depth of what he was truly made for. And when he finally came to this glorious realization, he rejoiced, because he was finally fulfilling how he was made to live. 

I think this can be used as an analogy for why we experience joy when we give and receive. If you think about it, God is a total gift exchange. He gives of himself fully in trinitarian love to the Son and receives in return the Son’s total gift-of-self. This reciprocity is so spiritually fruitful, that the Holy Spirit is made manifest by this perfect communion of persons. Since we are made in the image and likeness of this eternal love exchange, it follows that when we give (and receive), we are in fact living in the way we were created, out of pure gift—imaging God more fully, and that brings us joy. 

Now this isn’t just a fluffy sentiment or transaction of material goods, but something much deeper that awakens our very soul to who we are, and therefore how we are to live that brings fulfillment. This is why Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution from Vatican II on the Church in the Modern World, promulgated by Pope Paul VI declares, “The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown” (Gaudium et Spes 22).

I think it’s a bold claim, but Christ did not come only to save us from sin, but to remind us of who we are. He came to remind us that deep in our DNA is the call to give. Our actions flow from our very identity. If that is what it means to be human, then this gift of the spirit (generosity) will help us give abundantly. 

The Catechism even goes so far as to say that the union of man and woman in marriage images God’s generosity (See CCC 2335). Pope St. John Paul II explains that this is not just in the sexual union, but we image God’s generosity any time we give in love. So as we prepare for the Advent season, let’s think of how we can give generously and fulfill the very God-given purpose of our being and existence.