So when does Christmas begin? Friday 27th November. It is the day when Christmas begins. For this is Black Friday, the shopping phenomenon spreading worldwide from the United States, which retailers consider the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday immediately follows the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and stores seek to attract shoppers with headline grabbing bargains. One retail consultant is predicting that Black Friday 2015 will become the UK’s first £1bn+ online shopping day1. Three days later is Cyber Monday, when retailers seek to attract shoppers again, this time to their online stores. In between there is the opportunity to support local retailers with Small Business Saturday.
In recent years, charities worldwide have added another day to this retail-focused weekend. Named Giving Tuesday, the thought is to mark the beginning of the Christmas season with a national day of giving, “to celebrate generosity and to give”2. At the Scottish Bible Society, we have decided to take part in this year’s Giving Tuesday as we have an opportunity to raise the profile of our mission to people who may have never heard about us before. But as we do so, let’s remind ourselves of what God says to us about how we should give.
You will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.
2 Corinthians 9:11, NLT
Interestingly, the one day untouched in this weekend retail trinity of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday is Sunday. And importantly this day, Sunday 29th November, is the first Sunday of Advent. It begins the season in which the Church reflects on the fact that the greatest gift cannot be bought in store, online or at the best independent boutique. God’s offer of salvation in and through Jesus Christ is free, and the place we find out about this gift is through reading the Bible. So we begin where John begins, as he writes of that momentous day when, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:9, NIVUK). Christmas is about the coming of Jesus Christ into this world.
Our second theological point of departure comes with the timing of Giving Tuesday. This event celebrating generosity and giving comes after the days of vast retail spending. Paul instructs the Corinthian church:
On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income
1 Corinthians 16:2, NIVUK
For Christians, our giving to God rather than our spending is to be our first priority, on the first day of every week. Two things need to be said here. The first is to note the regular, habitual pattern of giving. It is not a one-off, an annual event, a moment of generosity. Commenting on the position and timing of Giving Tuesday, Fiona McDonald, Director of National Ministries at the Scottish Bible Society commented, “Our giving is not part of a retail experience.” Rather for Christians, our giving is an ongoing act of sacrifice, commitment and trust, as part of our worship of God.
This brings us to the second observation. Christian generosity and giving take place in the context of God’s overwhelming and constant generosity towards us. Scripture begins with God giving the gift of abundant, overflowing life. The context of our lives is one in which the God who gives and sustains life pours out into our lives an abundance of blessings. Generosity and giving begin with God, and all our generosity and giving is merely reflecting the one in whose image we are made. So we do not celebrate generosity and giving. Instead, we celebrate and worship a God who is unceasingly generous and giving, and our giving is always an act of worship that recognises and gives thanks for God’s generosity and goodness towards us.
Yet Giving Tuesday does have some biblical precedent in God’s provision to Israel of freewill offerings:
All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do
Exodus 35:29, NIVUK
This generosity of God’s people for God’s work through freewill offerings is repeated when the exiles return to rebuild the temple in Ezra’s day (Ezra 3:5).
So it seems that, as we approach the weekend which begins our celebration of God’s greatest gift to us in Christ, there is biblical support for creating an opportunity for God’s people to give freely to support God’s work.
It is in this spirit that we are inviting people to take part in Giving Tuesday. Whether it’s making a donation, volunteering your time or spreading the Good News at the start of the Christmas season, join us on GivingTuesday to raise the profile of our mission so we can reach as many people with the Word of God.
As we look forward to giving gifts to those we know and love this Christmas, wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that, through an act of generosity, no matter how small, we could play our part in bringing God’s life-changing Word to people throughout the world? What a wonderful way to begin the celebration of God’s generosity to us in Christ – that through our giving, people around the world, unknown to us but known and loved by God, discover the wonderful truth that God sent Christ into the world for them! Now that, in the midst of all the retail frenzy, is something to get excited about.
Head of Bible Engagement