This time of year, a lot of us are sending and receiving Christmas letters – those detailed accounts of how we’ve spent the last year. As interesting as they sometimes are, they are basically intended to tell the reader three things:
1. Our kids are smarter
2. Our dog is cuter
3. Our vacation was better.
Oh, and: Merry Christmas.
But this year, I got one of those letters, but it was quite different. It came from a former colleague of mine and it was notable because it didn’t mention what the author had done – but what someone else had done for him. As we hear in the readings today about the magi and their gifts, I thought I’d share with you this gift.
He began with a short preface to his friends:
“An anonymous person made a huge investment in our family this year,” he wrote. “He doesn’t know us and we don’t know him. Personal contact is not allowed for a year, however, we can exchange non-identifiable notes. So we thought we’d share the following note which we’ve sent to our doctor to pass along.”
This is part of what he wrote:
Dear Donor: I am the recipient of one of the greatest gifts you have ever given–the gift of life. Without your donation, I was given about a year until my bone marrow myelodysplasia (MDS) progressed to deadly acute leukemia. Your stem cell gift arrived in my hospital room on July 4th and after the transplant (infusion) the celebration began. The only information I’ve been given about you is that you’re a 33-year old male and that you live in the United States. The transplant took only a couple hours and the procedure went well. After nearly three months in or near the hospital, I was allowed to return home with my beloved wife and caregiver extraordinaire. She is a “Saint”. We’ve been married 51 years. I am feeling well. My last biopsy indicated that I’m almost 100% donor (97.3%). I’ve read all the rules by the National Donor Program on what I can and can’t say in this note. Under the limited category of what’s “OKAY TO SEND”: I am male—married, two children , and two grandchildren. I am 75 years old. Initially, I bragged about now being your age, 33, but I was told by a friend I shouldn’t be making such public pronouncements since this new age would mean I’m too young to be eligible for Medicare. I’m a retired news correspondent. I want you to know that it is impossible to find words that adequately express my gratitude for what you’ve given to add to my time on this earth. I feel as though I’ve lived through a miracle–thanks to your generosity. How wonderful it is to have people like you who give of themselves to help others. So until we actually meet in person, here’s wishing you and your family a Blessed and Joyous Holiday Season and a HEALTHY 2013. P.S. My wife says she “can’t wait to hug you.”
What a letter. A couple things strike me. First, it’s a beautiful testimony to the efficacy of adult stem cells. We hear a lot about embryonic stem cell research – which the church condemns, because it involves the destruction of human embryos. But this donation, from a 33-year-old man, shows how adult stem cells hold great promise and hope.
And of course, promise and hope are what this particular Sunday is about: the promise and hope of a God who revealed Himself through His son. That is the great gift of Epiphany. The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.” Here, I think, in this Christmas letter we have another epiphany, another manifestation of God. He reveals His grace at work.
And it never stops.
God continues to be made manifest if we are willing— like the magi— to look, to search, to be open to discovery. He is there in countless acts of generosity, wonder and self-giving. But are we seeing it? Are we seeing Him? Do we even know where to look?
One of the enduring lessons of Epiphany is this: you don’t necessarily discover God by keeping your head down and staring at the ground. We need to raise our eyes, and raise our hearts. Look above you and around you. Scan the skies for stars!
And Epiphany teaches us something else, too: do not be discouraged by the darkness. It is often when the night seems deepest and the journey seems longest that the light breaks through.
As we begin a new year, and continue our own journeys, there may well be nights when we feel lost. But remember what guided the magi. And remember, too, the unlikely places where God reveals Himself: in a stable…in the gift of a stranger…in a hospital…or even, as we are about to see again at this altar, in something as ordinary as a sliver of bread. Every Eucharist is an epiphany—a manifestation of His grace, His love, His presence in our world. How easily we take that wonderful gift for granted.
My friend closed his Christmas letter with a personal note: “Never forget,” he wrote, “that every day is a gift from the ultimate donor.”
I can’t imagine a better thought for starting a new year.
So this Epiphany, look for how God is making Himself manifest in your life. And: follow the light. Because as the magi learned, it will always take you where you meant to go – to the source of all light, the source of all hope.