My best Christmas occurred days before Christmas. I was twelve and had just come home from school. Mom needed me to get the Christmas decorations down from the garage attic and then help her hang all the tinsely mobiles from our living room ceiling. Why me? Where was everybody else? Why weren’t my older brothers and my older sister helping? In fact, why was the house so empty?
I still don’t know why, but for the next two hours I was alone with Mom – just me and her, side by side. And for the first time that I could remember, she was there wholly with me and I wholly with her.
What was so special about that afternoon? It was being with Mom. By filling the room with her love, Mom gave me the best Christmas gift I ever had – herself. She was with me, and I with her, and that was all that mattered!
The miracle of Christmas is that God came into our existence. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” the Apostle John writes. There is no more astounding Christian fact than this: The divine became human. This is what theologians call the “scandal of particularity.”
Why is this so important? It’s because, as Kierkegaard reminds us, Christianity is not a doctrine but a fact. God entered time and space and took on human flesh – not to reveal doctrine but to reveal his glory.
The wonder of the Incarnation, of Immanuel – God with us – is that God came to us in person; he entered into a world ridden with social strife, ethnic and religious tension, a world locked in the chains of fear, oppression, and isolation. In so doing, he not only suffered our pain, but died under the weight of our guilt. God gave himself away – totally, unreservedly, vulnerably and unconditionally.
Christmas is a time of giving. But giving what? Presents? Dinner parties? Holiday cards? Good cheer? Christmas should actually remind us that we have been created to give and receive more than gifts. We are meant to give each other ourselves. There’s a big difference!
Years ago my wife and I opened our home for street people to come to on Christmas day. We knew many of them personally as they had often rummaged through our alley garbage bin or chatted with us in our front yard as they pushed their shopping carts full of aluminum cans to the nearby recycling center. This Christmas we thought we would simply invite them into our home. We would have a table spread with food and hot drink, a fire going in the fireplace, Christmas music playing in the background, and table games laying around in various cozy places.
Well, word got out and our house was full – from beginning to end. And throughout the afternoon I had a wonderfully strange feeling inside. Was it that we were able to give from our abundance to those in need? No. Was it because we had opened our home to those who had none? Not quite. Was it the satisfaction that we finally found a way to rise above the crass materialism of Christmas shopping? Not that either.
It was only years later that I could finally identify the feeling. Those who came – Michael, Gayle, Marianne, Craig, to name a few – graced our home with themselves, and for an afternoon made their dwelling place amongst us. Each one came and gave who they were. Some ate more than they should have. Others were withdrawn and said nothing. Some smelled as they always had – of urine and cigarette smoke. Marianne would hug the dining room wall periodically, stroke it carefully, and then announce: “This is a friendly home!” Craig kept slipping in and out of the house, while Gayle made sure people were getting enough to drink, even if they didn’t want anything.
Those who came simply shared themselves. And my wife and I had the feeling that something wonderful had happened, and we were on the receiving end.
The most important gift we have is ourselves. Granted, this gift is far more costly than any other. But this is why it is all the more precious. And it is a gift we can all give – rich or poor!
To enter into another’s life, to suffer another’s pain, to offer oneself, to share one’s heart in humble trust, to allow another a glimpse into the secret chamber of your love, to be with another and to hope together for God’s redemption, to be an agent of giving with someone – these acts of being present are the gifts we most need and, if we are honest, most want.
I once heard a story of a boy and his father who were walking along the road and came across a large stone. The boy wondered if he would be able to move it. His father assured him that if he would use all his strength he could do it. After exerting himself all he could, the rock wouldn’t budge. Having compassion on the boy’s effort, the father came along side him to help him move the stone. “I guess I was wrong,” the father said. “All your strength wasn’t enough.” But the son replied, “No, daddy, all my strength was enough – you’ve been right here with me.”
“Right here with me.” This is Christmas. Being truly present. God with us, and we in turn, with each other. At this Christmas let us not become so busy, so hurried, so intent on doing things for each other and buying gifts that we forget to be truly with each other. “God so loved the world that he sent us his one and only son...” God gave himself! Will we do the same?