Spiritual Reflection: Presents and Presence
During Christmas time we give presents to different people and others give presents to us. What’s it all about? It all goes back to the story of the wise men going to Bethlehem, falling down on their knees, and offering the best gifts they could afford to the Baby King. But Christmas is not just about giv-ing present. It’s more about being present, i.e. sharing ourselves with warmth, affection and sincerity. The quality of our personal presence is eve-rything. In practice, gift-giving may sometimes be aimed more at keeping on one side and keeping the peace than being really present. In fact, gift-giving may at times be part of the commercialization of Christmas instead of an ex-pression of unconditional love.
The wise men were completely single-minded and sincere in their gift-giving. Their gifts were expressions of their respect, reverence, gratitude and love for the child. Their gifts were given with no strings attached, no condi-tions, and no mixed motives. The flaws in our own gift-giving may make us feel that the whole business of exchanging Christmas presents should be abolished, and that the commercialization of Christmas should be restrained and restricted, if not eliminated altogether.
If we think such thoughts, it may help to remember that the consumerism of Christmas is somewhat necessary. Were it a completely spiritual celebration, hundreds of small businesses would go to the wall. Thousands of factory workers making bon-bons, trees, chocolates, decorations, cards and toys, would find themselves unemployed. It may also be helpful to remember that if people did not spend money on gifts for family and friends at Christmas, their consciences would not be roused to make donations to the poor and needy at this special time of giving and sharing. (Many charities, in fact, ex-perience a big boost at Christmas time).
Despite the limits and flaws in our gift-giving, it’s not hard to purify it of its worst excesses. It’s particularly important to the lives of the children. The good news is that while they are attracted to receiving a gift, they are also attracted to the Crib and to the story of the baby lying there clothed in rags. Their hearts are touched by the plight of his parents who are so poor that they can offer him nothing but their protection and affection.
In fact, children very easily get the message that this is a story of love. They appreciate the humanity of the Holy Family, their struggles and their sacrific-es, to bring to the human race the Light of the Nations. The story of the visit to the Crib by the Wise Men is a story of giving and receiving. It speaks of how gifts express love between persons, and of how gifts given with love bind people together. But it is not simply about the giving of things (in this case gold, frankincense, and myrrh) but the giving of persons, the sharing of selves.
In celebrating Epiphany we are celebrating the greatest proof of goodness there has ever been, of God’s deeply personal love for us. For it was out of love that the Father gave us the Son, and gave him to be our Light, our Sav-ior, our King and our Joy. His present to us is nothing less than the divine presence in our lives. The poet John Betjeman has aptly called this: