By Jacob Krueger
In this season of Advent, we are reminded to wait, keep watch, and be patient for the Church to receive her begotten child, the one they call Jesus the Christ. While many may be watching and waiting, many are running around falling into the trap of consumerism and busyness in order to prepare to buy gifts and host family members for the Christmas celebration. Think about the ads we watch on television, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other modes of communications. Even this day, we get personalized ads that show the gift ideas we have searched on the internet for which they presume we need.
I remember as a child going to Christmas Eve service and then going home to enjoy Lasagna for dinner—which we have every year. After the delicious meal, we would open many gifts. Gift opening was great because my twin sister and I would get a lot of gifts because we were the only children on my dad’s side of the family. It all changed when we were about eight years old, and we started gaining cousins. I remember how jealous I was that Elizabeth and I weren’t the center of attention anymore and didn’t receive the most gifts.
Historically, gift giving was celebrated to remember the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that is given to Jesus by the Wise men during the celebration of Epiphany. The tradition of giving gifts is diverse these days. In some parts of the world, gifts are given on the night of December 5 for St. Nicholas Day. Others celebrate it in relation to Santa Claus, and still, others celebrate gift giving in the belief of Befana in Italy. Whatever tradition you might have, even if it is on Epiphany, gift giving is a big part of our lives–especially during this part of the year.
As I reflect on gift giving and my family growing, I’m reminded how difficult it might be for people to get together and what it means to get together for so many people. For my family, as a young child, the gift was adding new people into the family as my one uncle got married, and we added three cousins through birth. For many people, just being able to get together for Christmas is a gift. For others, the gift is getting rid of the terrible cancer or illness, the gift of spending time with loved ones who will die in the near future, the gift of a new born baby or babies in the coming year, the gift of families growing because of a marriage or engagement. There are many things that we patiently wait for and anticipate—gifts for us and for others.
I’m reminded that these gifts have a bigger meaning than just getting presents. It isn’t about how expensive and how many gifts we get. It isn’t about how elaborate the gifts we get from and for others. It isn’t about what gifts we get or don’t get that were on our Christmas wish list. Many of the gifts we receive this time of year or will receive this year, aren’t wrapped up in boxes and wrapping paper. The many gifts we will receive will still surprise us and will give us much joy as we experience the gifts.
The gift that we celebrate is Jesus the Christ who has come into this world to share in our suffering and to take away the sins of the world. This is the greatest gift which we will forever receive. For in God’s incarnation, the world will know better, whom God the Father truly is in God’s own being. While God was never absent from the world from the beginning of creation, God chose to come into this world, kneeled down to our level. Jesus became incarnate in the virgin Mary, born to us, the whole world, a child, one of the most vulnerable in society. For God came into this world to enter into the messiness of the world and to enter into better relationship with those whom God created.
We are celebrating Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel, coming into this world to suffer and die, to be human, and we wait for that day when Christ will come again. We wait and anticipate the gift of Christ coming again into this weary and violent world. Day in and day out we wait and anticipate that gift for we don’t know when that day will be. After all, Christ has come into this world when things were falling apart over two thousand years ago. We don’t know when this gift will be fully given to us, so we wait for that coming. When that happens, it will be a far different story than the one we already know. As St. Athanasius says in On the Incarnation of the Word of God, “From the scriptures you will learn also of His second manifestation to us, glorious and divine indeed, when He shall come not in lowliness but in His proper glory, no longer in humiliations, but in majesty, no longer to suffer but to bestow on us all the fruit of His cross—the resurrection and incorruptibility.”
Nonetheless, this Christmas season, we will celebrate the God who became incarnate to be in this world. We will sing hymns, hear the story of the birth of Jesus the Christ, and feast on the gifts of finest wheat. We will also receive gifts from our loved ones and receive them in great thanksgiving. All good things from which we will receive is from God. We can count on the gifts from God yearly and at all times for these good gifts are for you and for all people. May the many different gifts we receive this year truly make us blessed and thankful.