By Francis Gonsalves
Dec 24, 2014 -
You give little when you give something; you truly give when you give some one: yourself! That’s the sum and substance of Christmas celebrating the greatest of God’s gifts: God’s presence as “personal present” in God’s Son, Jesus! Sadly, with the moneymaking merriment that market forces shamelessly peddle, the profoundest meaning of Christmas gets eclipsed. Let’s restore it.
“God so loved us that God gave us His only Son, Jesus, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life,” writes Evangelist John. He adds, “God’s Son came to his own; but they received him not. But to all who welcomed him, He gave power to become children of God.” At Christ’s birth some two millennia ago, some welcomed him wholeheartedly, and others did not. Thus, Christ was born at the margins of society in a cattle-shed in Bethlehem.
Etymologically, Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. By being born neither in the Jerusalem Temple nor in any Raj Mahal, Jesus is accessible not only to the rich and powerful, whose consumerist lifestyles he denounces, but to the poor and powerless for whom he “becomes” bread sustaining them with a striking message: “God loves you!”
A great way to celebrate Christmas is to tell people “I love you”, giving them Christmas presents by way of “personal presence” and your time. This is precisely the attitude of the Holy Family. Jesus’ mother, Mary, is ever present as God’s servant, outstanding in her service, faith and surrender to God. Muslims, like Christians, also believe that God showered singular blessings upon Miriam.
Joseph, Jesus’ foster-father, is another example of being present for God by obeying the divine call. Though he scarcely comprehends the mysterious happenings in their family life, he trustfully promoted God’s spirit. Besides enduring hardships in Bethlehem, he is prompted to take Mary and Baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the killings of King Herod who, like present-day terrorists in Peshawar, executes many infants.
Three outstanding Christmas gift-givers are the Magi: pundits from the East who travel many miles to adore Jesus at Bethlehem. They offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh symbolising his kingship, divinity and mortality, respectively. Conspicuous in their presents is their presence fully alive and responsive to the Divine Mystery unfolding before them. Indeed, at Bethlehem, a marvellous marriage of God-humankind-nature takes place!
This Christmas, let’s strive to put “presence” into our presents. Christina Rossetti writes: “What can I give Christ, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I’d gift Him a lamb. If I were a wise man, I’d do my part. Yet, what I can, I give Him I give Him my heart!” Is your heart wrapped up within your Christmas presents?