receiving gifts at Christmas

I’ve got a cold today and I’m watching all three kids while Martha works in the community Kitchen. Over the last few days I’ve been thinking about what Christmas means to me.

In receiving gifts at Christmas we face the boundary of our existence as people capable of getting ahold of whatever it is we want or need. For a time we are awakened to that realization that our buying ability is limited to our own personal wants and needs. Gift giving runs counter to this “virtue” of independence. Gift-giving is irrespective of the receiver’s merit as a bread winner. In receiving a thoughtful gift, we realize how narrow our world is. We must open our minds and hearts to receive what we hadn’t worked or asked for.

This is the symbol of Christ’s gift to us. This world thinks it can get along well enough buying and selling on its own. Sure, there are problems, but they are confident they’ll be worked out in time. Receiving Christ in faith empties this world of its significance apart from its having received this gift. Because of Jesus, at Christmas we are confronted with our need anew to be guests, receivers, unwashed, hopeless, slaves in need of conversion and transformation.

I think of seven themes surrounding Christmas: Conversion, Revelation, Hope, Freedom, Works of Mercy, Redistribution (Acts 2), and Peace.

1. Conversion is seeing life through the eyes of faith instead of grouping faith together with other “inspired” abstract concepts that reiterate our views on life.

2. Revelation is God breaking the silence, using an Emperor’s registration to move two peasants into the place where prophecy will be fulfilled and the world changed forever. Revelation comes in the places and from the people we assume have nothing to say to us.

3. Hope is that expectant waiting year after year by people like Simeon and the prophetess Anna. They trusted that God was true to his word. Luke 2:25-38.

4. Freedom is promised in the songs of Mary and Zechariah (Luke 1:46-55 and 67-79.) These songs speak of redemption and a change in order where the poor have plenty and the rich are sent away, where we are rescued from enemies to serve God without fear. What is this but freedom? The whole world groans for this freedom (Romans 8:19) and here, at Christmas, we see it unfolding.

5. Works of Mercy. When else but during Christmas do so many people learn anew the Works of Mercy?

6. Redistribution: though we’re constantly reminded at Christmas time to limit ourselves, not to get “giving fatigue,” behind our gifts is a new reality: the Kingdom of God. If we can live with less of our money and time, and can use our talents to serve others, why can’t it infect our whole way of being? This is what the Church looked like when the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost.

7. Peace. Somewhere we got the idea that Peace would come as an absence of tension, as a gift, and without cost. But look at Jesus’ promise of peace to the apostles in John 14:27 and 16:33.

Do we want the Peace of Christ in this world? And with it persecution, hatred, and the need for greater faith? Or are we content to go on as always, with our Christmas sentiments, good will to all as always, without expectation that anything change? Peace comes at great cost. It involves repentance and change. To desire that for the whole world requires a new kind of faith.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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