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If God gave you a “gift card” to the vendor of your choice, which vendor would you choose, and what would you buy? And what would be the value of God’s gift card? $100? $1000? $1,000,000? If you got a million dollar gift card from God, would you describe Christmas 2017 as “the best Christmas ever”?
Before you answer, consider this: There are many cautionary tales of ordinary people winning vast sums with a lottery ticket. Many of these folks burn through the money quickly, end up broke or in debt, ruining their lives and families. Are you so sure you want a divine gift card for Christmas?
A good salesman identifies a need in his customers, or at least convinces his customers that they need what he’s selling. As I look at the frenzy of Christmas shopping, planning and travelling (having first confronted the man in the mirror, of course), and as I see the hostility Christ and Christians face at Christmas these days (except in, it seems), I suspect that people don’t want what God wants to give us for Christmas.
He wants to give us himself. And we behave as if we would want anything but that.
I witnessed a grandfather give his 6-year-old granddaughter a little Christmas package. She tore it open eagerly. Seeing the gold cross inside, she tossed it away, saying, “You mean that’s it?” Granted, she was only six, and hadn’t yet attained the age of reason. (And her poor mother was absolutely mortified.) But I have to ask: Are we so very different? Are we sure?
God’s gift of himself includes the cross—as well as the resurrection and the happiness of Heaven. We live in a culture that denies the latter two, so, the instrument to reach them, which is the cross, appears to have no appeal. It is, on this view, at best, a worthless gift. Jesus, who is Son of God and son of Mary, was born to die, as the gift of myrrh at his birth indicated.
Recently, I learned of a troubled soul who revealed to a contemplative nun his anxieties about the future. She smiled and said, “God’s will be done. He has a plan for you to provide you with a means for complete configuration to his son. Get ready!” How might our Advent and Christmas season be if we believed that and acted accordingly? What if what we celebrated at Christmas was the gift of the Christ and the vocation of becoming Christlike—including making his cross and resurrection our own? For starters, I think that our credit card debt and our waistlines would not be so bloated by the time the holiday season was over.
Perhaps if the world understood the status of sinners and the consequences of sin, it might welcome the birth of the only savior God has ever offered.
Perhaps if more Christians were more sure of their turning away from God and God’s stubborn efforts to bring them home again, Christians would be less stressed and more truly joyful.
And perhaps—just perhaps—if faithful Christians stopped to marvel at the divine dignity conferred upon the human body and soul when the Word of God took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they might be inclined to find a way to live and die that a darkened world could find wondrously attractive.
As I write this we are just a week away from Christmas. The Fourth “Week” of Advent lasts but a day this year. Time is running short to prepare ourselves for what God most wants to give us for Christmas. What shall we do right now?
Let’s be practical, and let’s be simple. First, I ask you today, to take time in prayer, and ask God to reveal to you one obstacle, that is, one habit of sin that keeps you from Christ. Then, resolve today that, with God’s grace, that obstacle will be removed by Midnight Mass on this Christmas Eve.
Second, take time in prayer today, and ask God to reveal to you one fruitfulness, that is, one habit of charity, that he would like to see take root in your heart. Then resolve today that, with God’s grace, that good seed will be well planted by Midnight Mass on this Christmas Eve.
Between this moment and Christmas Eve night, let us intercede for each other with these words of Saint Paul: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6)
When I write next, I will talk about avoiding Christmas regrets. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.