G is for Gift
The other night we showed our kids “A Christmas Story” for the first time. I can relate to Ralphie, who had his heart set on getting an air rifle for Christmas. Not just any air rifle, but “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred-shot-range model air rifle!” I never had designs on one of those, but I remember being similarly obsessed with a particular gift for Christmas.
For me, it was a GT Snow Racer with three skis, a steering wheel, and a hand brake. You could tell from the picture in the Sears catalog, which I circled in bold ink multiple times, that it was guaranteed to be the fastest sled around. When Christmas morning came around and my dream came true, it brought me more joy than I could ever remember feeling before. And unlike a Red Ryder, there was no danger of shooting my eye out. One of the neighbor kids did break his collarbone taking it off a jump that we made, but that’s another story . . .
Advent is a time to anticipate the fulfillment of our heart’s most precious desires, the longings that dwell so deeply within that we may not even be able to articulate them. We seldom speak of them to each other, as guarded as we are. Perhaps in our most quiet moments, when we find ourselves alone with God, we dare to give them voice: Stay with me . . . Have mercy on me . . . Give me peace . . . Set me free . . . Tell me I am beloved . . . Heal me . . . Save me.
The miracle of Christmas is that God delights in answering these prayers. Not from on high, not from afar, but by entering into the very midst of our loneliness and darkness and longing. God does not give us something. God gives us someone: God’s own self, the Word made flesh.
How can we respond to such a gift, when we have nothing nearly so wondrous or beautiful to offer? The poet Christina Rossetti tells us what gift we can bring:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him, give him my heart.