Initial disclaimer: I don’t claim to know the extent of the true meaning of Christmas. What I do know is that it has a lot to do with love, hope, grace, trust, an ultimate gift and yes, even receiving.
Yesterday, while going through the motions of final school pick-ups for our kids before the Christmas break and–more significantly–our approaching move away from Montana, one of our middle son’s preschool teachers pulled me aside to share with me the particulars of a conversation she had with him that morning.
“He is so unique,” she started. (Automatic Paranoid Parental interpretation: “He’s a trouble maker. He’s difficult.”)
She continued: “I love talking with him! He has such interesting things to say…and the expression on his face…just like this,” (she modeled a head cocked to the side, thoughtful expression, eyebrows furrowed, lids blinking)
“He told me his dad is coming home from a trip today and that the art projects Landon has been making here in class are all for his dad. That his dad’s return from traveling is the gift in and of itself–that he doesn’t even want his dad to bring him a toy.”
It is better to give than to receive.
Of course, less than a week ago, I also overheard this same cherubic boy under the tree counting presents, followed by the exclamation, “Hey! Gabe has five presents under here and I only have four! That’s no fair!” Anxious to jump in and teach a timely lesson, I inserted into the conversation, “We are not going to start counting presents! It doesn’t matter how many gifts are under that tree! You need to be thankful for whatever you receive for Christmas!” (insert a huff and a sigh)
Last week, our rector at church–winding up for the big Christmas sermon that, I imagine, many clergy quite nearly loathe for the weighty responsibility it carries–presented us with an interesting take on Christmas gift giving.
“I like to give gifts,” he proclaimed. “But I’m not very good at receiving gifts.”
A lofty personality trait, for sure.
But, no–that’s not the point he was getting at. Fr. Clark is the first person to proclaim his humility on any given day, and being a poor recipient of gifts is a trait that, truthfully, I think many of us can relate to.
When a friend or neighbor offers you a hand with something, how often do you hear yourself responding, “Thanks anyway, but I’m fine. I can handle it,” ?
It is sometimes difficult to humble ourselves enough to accept the help of others.
Think about this from a toddler’s perspective: with so much desire for independence and drive to carve out a place for himself in the world, simple tasks like putting on shoes and brushing teeth have the potential to make a nightmare out of a morning–all because one little stubborn being refuses to accept the willing help of his or her parent.
It is better to give than to receive?
Fr. Clark’s message last week in church was all about receiving–receiving the gift of Christmas each and every day. His focus, of course, was on receiving the kind of love wrapped up in sending His Son to us to save the world. Now that is lofty.
But what about us on a more microscopic level? Are we to go around everyday feeling thankful for God’s love and salvation through Christ? If you are Christian, the obvious answer is, “of course.” But like Fr. Clark, many of us have a hard time doing this on a regular basis. Many of us forget on a regular basis that that’s something we ought to strive for.
Down another level: if we can’t go through our days being thankful recipients of The Greatest Gift Ever, can we at least try to be good recipients of everyday gifts? Of friends’ and neighbors’ offers of help? As parents can we accept the gift of our childrens’ independence…trusting that that is, in fact, what will drive them toward becoming sentient beings and functional adults…rather than always trying to be the “giver” of help and expediency? Can we receive actual wrapped gifts with openness and appreciation no matter what lies within that odd-shaped package of shiny paper tied with a bow (instead of criticising the gift-giver’s intentions or taste–I still recall a friend’s description of a snowman statuette which her sister-in-law had given her for Christmas…’it’s like a Thalidomide snowman…look at those weird little stick arms!’)?
Side note: Dad, we actually do appreciate the shower heads you gave us last year!
The giving of Christmas gifts is inspired by a whole lot of things before tv advertising and corporate marketing come into play: The Three Kings’ gifts to the baby Jesus, St. Nicholas’ gifts to the poor…God’s gift to us all embodied in His Son…
The importance of receiving of gifts is inspired by an even higher source.
Blessings to you, dear readers, during this season of giving and receiving. May you give whole heartedly and receive openly and accepting. May you teach your children to do the same.