Blog # 213 Advent - c Gifts
Each Christmas, and sometimes in between, I take down a shoe box from the top shelf in my clothes closet. In the box is a toy clown on a bicycle that can peddle his way back and forth on a length of string held in the air by another person and myself. The clown is a gift that was given to me over forty years ago. I keep it and take it out again to remind myself of the lesson I learned from that simple toy.
The clown was given to me as a Christmas gift jointly from my nieces Cathy and Jeannie. They are the two oldest daughters of my brother Tom. At the time they gave me the gift they were about ten and eight years old. I was already forty. What could I do with a toy except let myself be amused with it for a day or so and then give it away to a child? But I have it yet. What happened in between?
The clown became for me a holy thing, a 'sacramental' as we say of such objects as blessed or holy water, statues of holy people, books of prayer, relics of Saints, etc. , things that tend to inspire us, remind us of our relationship with God, or motivate us to seek and serve God and one another better.
Forty-four years ago Cathy and Jeannie were living in Ventura, California. I was teaching at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. For several consecutive celebrations of Christmas I spent the Christmas vacation from the seminary visiting them. Eventually there were five girls and one boy in my brother's family. We sort of grew up together as we corresponded through the mail and celebrated Christmas together. We were good friends and loved one another deeply. On the Christmas I received the clown, Cathy and Jeannie were old enough to have a little money of their own and could choose a gift for different people in the family themselves. Mine was the clown. A toy.
What made me so happy about it and helped me turn it into a holy thing for me was the fact they saw me as still a child, as one of them, sort of equal to them even though I was already over forty. We used to play together around the house, crayoned coloring books together, went on walks, and jumped rope out on the back patio. I always enjoyed wrestling with their big brown dog, admired the beauty of their tropical fish, and was fascinated by whatever frogs lizards or salamanders they might have in a special enclosure in the back yard. They knew me pretty well and decided the clown would be a good gift for me that Christmas.
And it was, not only for that Christmas, but for all of them ever since. That is because of the lesson the clown still teaches me. The lesson is this: The identity we see in a person we love determines the gift we wish to give that person. My nieces saw me as one of them, as a child. They gave me a toy. If all I did while I was with them was pray they probably would have tried to find a prayer book for me as a gift. If the only game I tried to play with them was tennis they might have given me a few tennis balls.
The basic lesson here applies to all love and to all people. It applies to our love for God and God's love for us. So we ask the very important questions: 1)What can God give to me? and 2) What can I give to God? The answer to these questions depends upon the identity God gives to me and the identity I give to God. Just as the identity my nieces gave to me as one who would enjoy the clown came to them through a process of our relating to one another over a period of time, the games, the songs we sang, the tropical fish and the food we enjoyed at family meals, so the identity we give to God determining the gifts we wish to make to Him is a process that ideally keeps going on as we experience more of life and identify God again and again in new and more perfect ways as our love for God develops and our gifts to God become different through the years.
Could I give God the gift of trust if God were to give me the gift of cancer? Could I give to God the gift of forgiving someone who has betrayed or injured me? Could I give to God the gift of prayer for wisdom when difficult decisions are placed before me? Could I give to God some time in prayer each morning and each evening when God gives me the gift of the beginning and the end of every day? The answer to these and similar questions depends upon the identity I give to God.
If God is predominantly fearsome for me I may give God the gift of obedience, but not that of love. If God and my relationship with God is identified by me as one value among others rather than a value above and beyond all values, I can hardly pledge to God my total love. I may obey the Commandments out of fear or of some other selfish motive, but if we identify God as lovable and because we identify God as lovable, we obey the Commandments out of love. That is a greater difference than the difference between night and day.
We are on our way through Advent to Christmas , the season of love, the season of gifts. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son...(Jn 3:16). Jesus is God's gift to all the world. How sad it is that only a minority of the world's population realize and experience this and have in faith received Jesus as a perfect gift of the Father's perfect love. Years ago when after Christmas my nieces went back to school and I went back to St. Meinrad we exchanged letters through the mail. They told me on paper of their fish and frogs and jumping rope, their cuts and bruises, their joy and their love. How much better it was when I came to them and shared my love and concern in the three dimensions of their living room and kitchen, their back yard and their church.
And so it is with Jesus. He comes to us in a real way on the pages of the Bible, but in a better way and even more closely than the mere three dimensions of our living room, office, kitchen or church. In the gift of Sanctifying Grace the Resurrected Jesus comes to us and dwells within us, in our minds by faith and in our hearts by love. I can't imagine Him coming any closer than that. What a gift! Lord, help us prepare well for Christmas 2012!