So it’s Christmas. Some of us are no doubt excited and nostalgic about upcoming celebrations and gatherings. Some of us are lamenting the misunderstandings that often come along with the season in North America (For good discussion and comments click here.) Some of us are struggling with the cliches, or lamenting how “busy” we are. There’s a lot we can talk about, but I want to focus on gifts.
Think back to when you were a kid. If you are still a kid I’m impressed and befuddled that you’re reading this instead of playing addicting games online. Anyway, as a kid think about some of the gifts you received. Don’t worry if you can’t remember them all, this isn’t a test for appreciation. Instead I want you to think about what you did (or still do) with the presents you received. My guess is you had at least three categories. There are those gifts you don’t want but can’t throw away. Put them to the side, don’t lose them, but don’t use them either. Then there are those gifts that you cherish but don’t use. They go up in a frame or on a shelf, kept pristine. You can look but no touch. Finally there are those gifts you want and play with. They go with you to school (or work), join the family for dinner, never leave your side. What do all these gifts have in common? You’re in control of them. Sure you can’t throw away that gift from your Aunt, and you may even be made to wear it once or twice, but other than that, these gifts are under your control. You are in charge.
Last week our Gospel reading on Sunday was Luke 1:26-38, where Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she will give birth to the Messiah. This in turn made me think about the general phrase around Christmas time of the greatest gift being Jesus. For Mary, none of the categories we discussed above do justice to Jesus as gift to her. Obviously she is not going to dismiss Jesus. She also can’t put him on a shelf and admire him. She has to change diapers and teach him to walk. Perhaps he fits in the third category, never leaving her side. Of course, that’s not true either, since he ditches them at the Temple, asks “Who is my mother?”, and ultimately doesn’t belong to Mary. In fact, Mary has to let go of her son. She loses him as gift when he goes to the cross and dies.
Jesus doesn’t fit into our normal understanding of gift because, terrifyingly and wonderfully, we are not in control of him. In his incarnation we don’t grab hold of him, he takes hold of us. God comes and walks among us, gives his life and claims us in his resurrection. What do you do with a gift like that? I suppose like Mary you ponder. Like the shepherds you rejoice. As God’s people you receive.
I hope this comes as encouragement to you in this and all seasons.