Thursday, December 25, 2014

Magi Me

(This is my Christmas essay from last year.  Some people said they liked it, so I am reposting it.)

Christmas is a time for giving gifts.

We are sometimes frantic with the pressure to find just the right gift to give to those we love.  We spend hours walking the malls or surfing the inter-webs until we find something that speaks to us.  It must be a gift that not only shows value to the receiver, but it must also express the relationship to the giver.  Gifts are a way for us to acknowledge how much we truly "get" the other person.

I remember one year my father's fiancee got me a set of Hot Wheels cars.  I don't know why.  I never have owned a Hot Wheels or Matchbox car in my life.  Maybe she really was trying and my adolescent brain was too prejudiced against her to realize this.  But my only thought was, "She has no idea who I am."

When I get gifts for my wife, I try very hard to think of things that she would enjoy or find beautiful (all of which are attainable through a Catholic school teacher's salary).  And every year she outdoes me with her choices.  She knows me.  She gets me.

But then I started thinking about the source of all our Christmas joy: Jesus.  He is the Gift from Heaven and we give gifts in turn to replicate that generosity.  So we shop for or make gifts to give each other.

But what about Jesus?

He is the One Who gives.  But do we give back to Him?

That's what the Magi did.  They travelled from the East to give Him gifts.  Of course these gifts were only tokens; they were symbols of their admiration.

But what about a gift that was not symbolic?  What about a gift to the Lord that showed that we truly "get" Him.

I started thinking about it and I realized what a seemingly insurmountable problem this was.  This is literally case of "What do you get for the Man Who has everything?"

I thought first about the obvious: money.  I could always drop a few more coins into the collection plate.  But then I thought that God doesn't need my money.  To be sure His children are in constant need of charity, but Jesus doesn't need money.  He was never attached to it.  Throughout the Gospels he warned against being too enthralled with money.  He could have chosen to be born into palatial opulence.  Instead He traded a gilded cradle for a straw-filled manger.

I thought about doing some work of art for Him.  After all, isn't that what the Little Drummer Boy did? (pa-rum-pum-pum-pum?)  What wonderful expressions of Divine praise we have from paintings of Michelangelo, the hymns of Thomas Aquinas, the meditations of St. Ignatius of Loyala, etc.?  I know that I cannot produce anything of that grandeur, but I could do something.  Yet doesn't all of my talent come from God anyway.  Isn't He, like the parable says, the Giver of the talents.  Any artistic ability I have is not mine, but only on loan to be from God.

I thought about simply surrendering my life, body and soul to Him.  But what kind of gift would that be?  He made me out of nothing.  Everything I have, physical or spiritual,  I have from Christ.  To give Him my soul as a gift would be like giving telling someone they can keep the sandwich they just made for themselves.  It already belongs to Him, which is why our rebellion is a kind of theft.

I thought about giving Him the sum of all of my good actions.  But even this would be a fraudulent gift.  I am powerless to be good without His grace.  Every act of kindness and charity is not mine to give Him.  He is Charity Itself.  If I have any Charity in me, it is simply the work of His Nature acting upon this mortal man.  Any good I have done could have been done by another.  But Christ kindly let me work with Him.  Even the good that I do is His gift to me.

So is there anything I can give Him this Christmas?  Is there anything that I can lay down at His feet that is not His already?

And then it struck me.  The answer is yes.

There is something that Christ does not have.  There is something that only I can make.  And I make it apart from any of His influence.

My sin.

The Lord gave me a will that is free and the power of action.  But all of this He gave me so that I might work with Him and choose the good.  But all too often I have not done so.  I turn away from that Eternal Fountain of Joy and drink the poisonous bitter waters of sin.  That is why I need a Savior.

That is why Christ was born on Christmas day.

There is only one thing that I can give to Jesus that He does not have.  I can give Him my sin.

And here is the amazing part: that is the gift He wants from us.  Those Bethlehem shepherds knelt before the Lamb of God Who takes upon Himself the sins of the world.  He came to this world because we have sin.  And He will not take it away from us by force.  He respects our free will too much for that.  Instead, we must give it to Him.

Sin must be our gift to the Lord.

I must let go of my sin and lay it down at His feet.  And then, as St. Paul says, He Who knew no sin can then become sin on the cross.  All sin must be punished if God is a just and fair God.  Jesus does not want us to bear that punishment.  He wants that burden to fall on His mighty shoulders.  It is odd to think of that tender child in that stable as the bearer of all humanities horrors.  But Christ is as innocent on that night as He was on the day they nailed Him to the cross.

Jesus wants to save us.  To do that we have to let go of the one thing that did not come from Him.  We must let Him relieve us of the burden of our sin.  That is what He wants.  Even when He receives He gives.

If I can do that, then maybe I can show the Lord that I really "get" Him.

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