The shoulders tense up. The list is beside the computer, and it’s Cyber Monday! What if I can’t find what they want? How do I make sure I give the same value to each one? What if it doesn’t get here in time? And then there’s the post-Christmas bill! And the time this is all taking from my normal routine! Where’s the Christmas peace?
No matter how much I try each Christmas to keep the simplicity and poverty of that first Christmas my priority, I still seem to get blind-sided by the materialistic side of the celebration. A daily examination of conscience leads to reflection, though, and inevitably God in His great mercy finds a way to speak to me about my perspective. This year His Voice came to me in the form of a wonderful book entitled Mary’s Life in the Spirit – Meditations on a Holy Duet by George T. Montague, SM. His chapter on receptivity caused me to stop and pray about the real meaning of gift giving again. Perhaps the peace that was heralded by the angels could settle in my heart.
Montague begins this chapter by describing the scene in Matthew’s Gospel when the Magi arrive with their gifts. Their unexpected nighttime visit, which also coincided with them mentioning their stop in Jerusalem and their conversation with King Herod, likely caused some fear for the Holy Couple. Herod wants to know about this new King. Mary is confirmed that her new baby will not only be a public, but a political figure. But one of the greatest lessons to learn from Mary is how to respond to unexpected, fearful, and confusing events. She immediately consults the Holy Spirit and begins the process of pondering. Montague defines this response beautifully as comparing the specific and individual event to its meaning and place in all of salvation history. What is the meaning of the visitors’ presence, message, and gifts? Quickly, Mary recognizes the need to be hospitable to her guests, and even more, to accept all their gifts.
Montague writes, “…when one receives a gift, one receives the giver, and the greatest service one can do for the giver is to receive his gift.”
Mary and Joseph become our models of the gift-giving Christmas season. And the focus is on receptivity. When one receives the material gift, one receives the one who gives the gift. It is the person behind the gift that really matters. Every exchange can be recognition that I have room in my heart for this person, as he or she has room in their heart for me. Time is an important factor here, as a hurried exchange can miss this opportunity to receive the whole person as they share what they offer in love. Perhaps it is the conversations before and after the sharing, and the hugs given in gratitude, that provide for the fullest experience of gift giving.
There were no obligations in that little stable, no need to reciprocate materially. Mary received the whole person-King as each bent a knee, letting them love her, Joseph, and their Savior Babe. The love and adoration shown in their gifts must have flooded Mary’s receptive heart with great joy. That joy then is her gift back to them. And they left that poor and humble scene fully satisfied.
What gifts will I receive this Christmas? What is the greatest gift I can give? First and foremost, I will, on Christmas Eve Mass, receive my most profound Gift. In Holy Communion, Gift and Giver are one! May I offer Him the joy of perfect receptivity. Then, I will receive love from my husband and children, as they offer me their presents. I will receive the gift of friendship as we open our home for the annual Christmas brunch, and give the wonderful gift of hospitality. And lastly, like Mary, I will more deeply ponder the heart of the gift-bearer and take the time to receive the whole person in love. In all these exchanges, I am confident my heart will swell with deep and abiding Christmas peace.