Unclaimed blessings are clearly the best! On this Thanksgiving weekend, with Advent just around the corner, I’m reflecting on the blessings we enjoy. Of course, the usual come to mind—family, friends, freedom, opportunity, food—lots of food with stunning variety, richness of experiences, and the list goes on. All of these I claim with relish and am blessed. But the unclaimed ones are best!
One expects to list God in this connection. Of course, God in creation, redemption, provident care, compassionate responsiveness, incredible patience, abounding in all things good in ways we cannot calculate—yes, what blessing, well-spring of blessing God is and provides! These common—that is, experienced by people generally—are complemented by a host of more personal, targeted if you will, blessings that flow to us relentlessly. Indeed, but the unclaimed ones still are best!
I think of many who have experienced unusual blessing in recent weeks or months. Some have welcomed a loved one home—from war, from far-away residence, from threatening illness, from estrangement or some other far country. What joy the welcome occasions! Even still, the better blessing are the unclaimed ones.
The Apostle Paul describes the indescribable gift—substitute “blessing” here—in a variety of ways. Once he says that the one who knew no sin became sin for us, so we might become the righteousness of God. Elsewhere, he wrote of One who was rich yet for our sake became poor so that we might experience his wealth. In another place, he tells us that Jesus Christ shared equality with God and yet did not take advantage, did not claim that blessing. Instead, he relinquished it, he emptied himself so that we might be assured we are never alone, or never lower than he has been and now is with us, and never beyond eventual, glorious exaltation with him. In all these cases, Jesus did not claim blessing that was his so that we might receive blessing otherwise totally beyond us. Only these unclaimed blessings make possible the best blessings we enjoy!
Recently I read again a gospel account of Jesus’ death on the cross. One of the most poignant taunts of his detractors was that, “he saved others, why doesn’t he save himself!” Likewise, one of the darkest temptations of that moment was, “if you are who you say, then save yourself. Come down from that cross!” What blessed relief such self-salvation represented! Yet, the fact of the matter was he could not save himself and us also. He had to leave his own blessing unclaimed in order for blessing to flow toward us. The unclaimed ones are the best!
The blessings our world needs most are also the unclaimed ones. The whole world is targeted by Jesus’ radical relinquishment of blessing, so that any blessing that flows to us can flow also to all. But I think they will flow only if Christ-followers follow, only if in our following after the one who refused to claim all his blessings we too find ways to leave unclaimed some blessing for the sake of others. That is, is it really possible for us to follow Christ, who shows us the best blessings by not claiming all that was his, without doing as he does? Is it really possible to follow without fully following?
These are rhetorical questions. Of course, it is not possible to follow without following! Of course, the best blessings will not flow to all people in some way other than they have to us. Of course, the best blessings, which many will miss otherwise, call for Christ-followers not to claim them out of love for Jesus and the world Jesus loves.
What if this Christmas our giving included a generous element of denying blessing for the sake of others? What if Christ’s coming and our celebration of it prompted a lavish relinquishment of what is rightfully ours, so others will know they are not alone and that the best and its Author is reaching toward them?
I do not know precisely what this would look like, but … what if? What if, millions more could know that the best blessings come because the One who has come, and his followers, didn’t grab it all for themselves?