St. Nicholas throwing the coin purses to pay for a poor man’s daughters’ dowries.

St. Martin giving away his cloak to the beggar by the city gate.

In fiction, Scrooge’s conversion and prodigal charity after his ghostly visitation by the spirits of Christmas past, present and future.

The common thread that runs through most Christmas stories is the mystery and wonder of gift giving. A good Christmas story usually involves an extravagant show of charity, generosity and feasting. Christmas is decidedly not a time when frugality is ripe for praise.

As we begin our Advent season and look forward to celebrating the great mystery of the Incarnation at Christmas, we do well to remember that the greatest gift we have received is the gift of God’s love by faith.

Faith is that completely unmerited gift of God’s grace by which we not only accept everything God has revealed about Himself to us but welcome into our souls participation in the supernatural life of God. As our Lord told us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). That sharing of divine life made possible by the sacrifice and reconciliation of the Cross is what He came to Earth to bring. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14).

The Word became flesh, and we have beheld His glory. Jesus, as God, makes visible for us in human history the invisible God who is spirit. It is precisely this “making-flesh,” this “incarnating,” that has changed everything about what it is to be human in a post-Jesus world. Gift-giving now takes on a spiritual dimension and is a reflection in the world of the deeper truth of how God’s grace is given to us.

And so we read in 2 Corinthians 9, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Yes, times are difficult. We have to be responsible with our earthly goods to fulfill our obligations to care for ourselves and those dependent on us. But Christ also assures us not to be miserly and calculating: “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:3-4).

Another incarnation: The giving away of material goods in Jesus’ name becomes unto us a spiritual blessing. Further, when we unite our self-sacrifice with Christ, we atone for sin. Jesus says: “But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you” (Lk 11:41).

God shares Himself by grace without compulsion, without self-interest and abundantly. If we are to imitate Him, then, our generosity to Him and to our neighbors should be made in like manner.

This Christmas, let us enter into its true spirit by committing ourselves to more prayer and faithfulness, giving God more abundantly of our time and affection. And let our alms giving and gift giving be prodigal. It was St. Ignatius who prayed, “Lord, teach me to be generous, to give without counting the cost.”

This Christmastide, be of good cheer, for God loves a cheerful giver!

—Father Steven Marchand is administrator of St. Peter Parish in Vergennes and St. Ambrose Parish in Bristol.

—Originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.