It's been a while since I've done this, so there might be a lot of holes in what I'm about to say. but I hope this will be a good exercise for me to sort out my thoughts and musings in writing.
My religion (or rather athiest) professor in college argued that Christianity was ultimately a selfish and vengeful doctrine, preaching a gospel disguised with love and charity with the end goal of selfish eternal gain, while its enemies roasted in fiery damnation. In a twisted way, I suppose I could agree with her. I mean, we are told to be kind to our enemies and in doing so, we "heap burning coals over their heads." That sounds pretty vengeful to me.
The gospel speaks a lot about eternal reward. It tells us not to store up treasures on earth but treasures in heaven. Some would argue that this notion still appeals to our sense of selfish gain. But I wonder, is that so bad? Even the notion of sacrifice in the bible is not a concept of loss, but ultimate gain. Tithing, according to the book of Malachi, meant that in doing so you would receive an abundance from heaven. And Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for the sins of humanity resulted in his final glorification at the right hand of God. That leads me to conclude that sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice is useless. In fact sacrificing to demonstrate just how much we can sacrifice is a futile act of pride. Sacrifice is a means to achieving something greater. In our humanity, we are wired to desire fulfillment and to hunger for the best that we can attain. I think that is actually something to be celebrated in our humanity, not shunned. But perhaps it is our definition of "best" that has become distorted.
When Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac on the altar, I don't think he was just doing it out of blind obedience to God. In fact, I imagine that it was excruciatingly painful. But ultimately, I think he did it because he knew God would give back whatever He was about to take away. Abraham believed in a promise that God had made to him that he would father a nation. I think he knew that even if he plunged that knife into Issac's heart that God could raise him back to life. The direness and impossibility of the sacrifice could not overshadow his belief in a good and almighty God.
Sacrifice is ultimately an act of faith. Faith to believe that we will get back tenfold what we choose to give up. I am not a proponent of our modern day prosperity gospel, but I also do not believe in a God who is limited in blessing. Sometimes, we starve our faith because we secretly believe that God doesn't have enough to give to everyone. So instead we live to hoard and profit from the works of our hands. Our need for fulfillment rots into vain ambition and we subconsciously resign to "if God cannot give to me, then I will take for myself."
I'd like to propose something. What if we didn't see sacrifice as loss, but maybe as the greater gain? For those with gambling tendencies, think of it as "bigger risk, bigger reward." Or "go big, or go home." So this is my proposal... I dare you to love others (even those people you don't like) with abandon and with the expectation that you will grow and receive a love many times greater in your life and community. I dare you to give money away like it was never yours with the expectation that God will provide your every need and that there will be more richness in your soul than you could ever count in dollars. I dare you to give away your time to people instead of your capitalistic work ethic and then watch God stop the very movement of time so that you can get done what you need to get done without leaving people in the dust of your pursuits. I dare you to live instead of survive. Keep giving as if there is an endless supply to give from. Because if God is truly as infinite as we believe him to be, we will never be empty.
PS. Merry Christmas!