I love Christmas presents almost as much as I love baby Jesus. You’d think this might pall with age, or bring regret that I haven’t invested more in spiritual Advents (being occupied as I often am with getting enough gifts for my ever expanding circle of friends and family). Quite the contrary! I realized at Mass on the 4th Sunday of Advent this year that if anything, I’ve been too paltry in my gift giving. Yes, there were at least 24 gifts under the tree (for 4 of us) at last count, but forced to stop shopping for a moment and reflect in the light of the fully lit Advent wreath, the glowing tabernacle light, and the Advent of Jesus at the Consecration, I could only conclude that our gift giving is only the slightest reflection of the gifts the Christ Child brings.
With Chesterton, I’m filled with wonder, awe, and ineffable delight at the plenitude of gifts with which He enriches our world, and when He Himself enters history to give us Himself, there is nothing to do but, like Goodness diffusive of His Trinitarian self, share the wealth. And laugh!
For here, off the very top of my happy little head, are just a few of the gifts that Little Jesus brings:
1. The Limitless Love of the Heavenly Father
My gift giving models itself on the generosity of God the Father. Who could be more prodigal than He, “wasting” His only Beloved Son on the likes of disinterested mankind? And yet, it is never enough for Him. The Father gives us the Son daily on our altars to offer back to Him. And yet still it is never enough, for He surrounds us with blessings beyond counting, spiritually and often materially, the petition for “our daily bread” covering every contingency.
As Jesus told Servant of God Marcel Van, He only holds back because He knows that without restraint, His love would be too much for us if given all at once. We have a lifetime to receive it, and He all of time to give His limitless love, and then — the only possible solution for a Limitless Love — all of eternity. But it starts especially on Christmas, when the Father gives us the greatest gift, His well-beloved Son.
2. Mary and Joseph
And there, with baby Jesus, are Immaculate Mary and good St. Joseph. He gives us them too, that we might have a mother and father like us, and that in their care and love for little Jesus, we might learn how to live and to adore Him.
3. The animals
No wonder St. Francis of Assisi started the tradition of the living crèche. What is more wondrous than the thought of God coming to dwell, first, between an ox and an ass, with sheep the second ones (after Mary and Joseph) to come with their keepers to adore Him? He is born in the animal’s home, and they set us an example of how to welcome Him. In simplicity, just as we are, whenever He comes, with only our breath to give Him, but giving it unstintingly that we may keep the little God warm in the cold of the mid-winter night.
4. Peace on earth
The angels announced it to the shepherds, and St. Luke reports it straight off, immediately after Jesus is born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and tucked into a manger. God bless Charles Schultz — when I read Luke’s account, I hear Linus’ voice in the old T.V. special, and the truth is all the more poignant for being recited by a child. But there it is, year after year, the message of the first one angel, and then a multitude of the heavenly host: “Fear not! I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be for all the people!”
And amidst the singing more beautiful than had ever been sung before: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth!” We don’t see the fullness of peace yet while nations rage, but the peace of God Himself, eternal Love and Perfection, has come to us in Jesus, hoping to find a welcome in our hearts.
You can begin to see why 8 presents apiece hardly does the job. They are trinkets to bring smiles to faces because Jesus has come to save us! What wondrous love is this, and what is our fitting response? Wonder, awe, delight—the infinite God has become a tiny baby. We will never be alone again, and even for introverts, that isn’t bad news! Our God comes silently, as in the stable, and noisily, as to the shepherds at their watch. He will suit Himself to your needs, but the tidings of great joy are that He is here!
At the darkest time of the year, Jesus comes to shed His light. He will enlighten the darkness of our hearts and lead us to the Truth (Himself) as the star lightened the sky and drew the Magi. The glorious custom of Christmas cards will hopefully bring many images of the infant-God and His light into your home. But if you haven’t had your fill, you can soon find some for half price in stores whose proprietors don’t know enough about the 12 days of Christmas to sell them now for double! My favorites are those with paintings by the Old Masters who show, masterfully, the light in the manger scene emanating from the newborn infant. May He enlighten us all!
7. The Communion of Saints
This is the beginning. When Christ is born, Mary and Joseph are first, then shepherds, then wise men, but then a cloud of witnesses, a cavalcade of Saints will come on bended knee to adore Him. We can find them, every one, at the stable, and they are waiting, joyfully, eagerly, to introduce us to the Mystery of Incarnate Love as He revealed Himself to each of them. What a blessed fellowship!
8. The Holy Spirit
The Incarnate Word of the Father is filled with the Spirit of Love. Isaiah has foretold this too, His anointing with the Spirit, that Holy Spirit with which we too are anointed at our baptisms and confirmations. On Pentecost the Spirit will come as flames — but here is His beginning among us, in the flame of love burning in the Sacred Heart of baby Jesus.
9. Holy Communion
He is born in a stable in Bethlehem, far from the cradle his foster father, the carpenter Joseph, so lovingly carved for Him. Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and He is placed in a manger—the feeding trough of the animals. He has come to be our food, and when He says, before the Last supper and His first appearance as true bread to be consumed that our union with Him may be entirely Incarnational, He says, “With great desire I have desired this.” Yes, even from the moment of his birth in a place so rich in symbolism and meaning. He is our Bread from Heaven, and how solicitous of Him to prepare us for His coming with each of our Advent Communions. May your Christmas Communion with Him be the sweetest of them all.
10. The Little Way of Spiritual Childhood
God comes to us as a child. The Saints put it well when they explain that He came as an infant to banish our fear. Let us be children with Him. Let us approach the crèche and kiss His tiny feet, His tiny hands, His tiny face. Let us be that child the mother has to pull away from the newborn lest he crush His baby brother out of love! Jesus will not be crushed by our love, no matter how ardent and numerous our kisses. Let each gift you give and receive be a kiss for and from little Jesus, and may your kisses be plentiful and your joy and peace unbounded, like the Limitless Love of God!