The Greatest Gift of Christmas
I remember new Christmas Eve, filled with all the awe and excitement that surrounds a child at Christmas: thoughts of snow and hot chocolate; a fir tree and decorations. The buzzing excitement of last minute preparations such as shining the silver, cleaning the house; finding the good candles; the baking and the cooking (especially the taste-testing!); and lets not forget the all important last minute shopping! For a child at the age of five, all this can come to a fever pitch! This particular Christmas I had asked my parents' permission if I could "sleep" out in the living room on Christmas Eve. My plan was to keep an all night vigil in expectation of St. Nick coming down the chimney. Surprisingly they agreed! I immediately went to work on putting together my provisions. I dug out an old sleeping bag, found a flashlight and made sure that there was plenty of milk and cookies put out for the jolly old man. When morning came I realized I was not up to the challenge of keeping awake like I am these days when exams come. When I awoke I found that I had missed him! He came and left, and I slept right through it! But he was there because there were new packages pouring out from under the tree - of course I took a careful inventory the night before. It was as if the room had been transformed and we had a touch of Santa's workshop with us. Now it was time to take a new inventory!
Well, that was the first and last time my parents allowed me to sleep out in the living room on Christmas Eve. That night they had to wait up pretty late until I fell asleep, and then, without waking me, they had to step over me each time they went back and forth bringing out arms full of the other gifts. But they got smart the following years and told me that St. Nick wouldn't come if I wasn't in bed...and by a certain hour! You can bet I was in bed, but I still couldn't stay up long enough to hear St. Nick in the living room, though a few times I thought I heard the hooves of the reindeer on the roof...really!
What a time Christmas is for everyone. Filled with excitement and wonder as we dream of the greatest gift we can think of that awaits us Christmas morning. Oh we hope! Do you think they remembered! Is that gift even really available? Certainly, it's available. Certainly they remembered. It is the greatest hope of our heart's desire. How could they forget God's great gift of His very self! We have been waiting so long for His coming, for His advent, and now it's here! He came while we were sleeping! And now everything is transformed, for that which He created He has taken on Himself! What great love and desire God has in wanting to be united with us; to share His life with us that He humbled Himself and took the form of a child, being born in the likeness of man. The dwelling of God is among us today! God has visited His people and made His dwelling among them. He is available to us in a radically new way!
Now that I am older I still think of those days when I was a child and how Christmas was so awesome and wonder-filled. Though a child seeks out those gifts that will fill the toy box, Advent is a time when we wait with expectant hope for the gift that will fill our lives. Jesus Christ, the Emmanuel, "God with us," who was born in our hearts at Baptism, and grows within us as we come to know God in prayer and in our daily lives. This gift of the presence of Christ is the reality of God making His dwelling within each of us. God's love is so great and true that it does not consider if we can be trusted with keeping His presence. Rather He entrusts Himself to us, mere creatures, not counting the cost, but counting the benefit to be so close to those whom He loves so intimately. The Almighty, Omniscient, Creator of the universe who is great and awesome in majesty shows such humility, love and compassion to us that He gives the greatest gift we could ever receive. What an awesome mystery: Him by Whom we are made worthy to receive, is Him Whom we receive, bringing us to the dignity of sons and daughters of God.
When the gifts from under the tree were being passed around, I remember simply tearing into the gift to see what was inside. Then I couldn't wait for the next one! A gift that is given is meant to be opened and used. What good is a sweater or shirt or tie if it isn't put on? And so it is with the gift of Christ, the Emmanuel. St. Paul bids us to put on Christ, that is, to live the life of Christ that we have received. To live a life worthy to be called sons and daughters of the Most High. Our Lord came to us through the Blessed Virgin, and when He comes to us at Christmas we can respond as Mary did, "let it be to me according to your word." Then, by His birth in us, our hearts and souls are marked with the sign of being sons and daughters of God. Through this grace (gift) of Christ's presence in us by the power of the Holy Spirit we have the help we need to now live as children of the Most High, by living the life of Christ that is within us. May the Lord grant us that we may be like little children filled with awe and wonder at the greatest gift of Christmas.
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