“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way…”
Matthew 1: 18a
Can you think back to your favourite Christmas gift of all time?
Perhaps it was a pair of skis, some crafting supplies, or a book that you treasured…
I think the best gifts are those that change our lives for the better in some way or another. On the Christmas of 1980 my parents gave me such a gift: my first flute. It was more than just a cheap toy, or an article of clothing to use briefly and then neglect or throw away. The flute opened a door into the world of music -- a change for which I’ll always be thankful.
The flute was also a gift that demanded something of me: dedication, patience, time, creativity, work. But that demand was never a burden; whatever labour I invested in flute playing was more than compensated for in the joy of making music. The music-making that emerged from that simple gift also helped me to form connections with - and give delight to – many people.
Christians say and believe many things about the birth of Christ. More has been written about it than can possibly be read in the few weeks left until Christmas. Although we disagree on many points, most Christians would concede his birth was some kind of gift to humanity – even to the world. But what kind of gift was he?
There are Christmas gifts that are enjoyed quickly and easily forgotten. Though they may have been given with the highest of motivations, they have little impact on us, and do not change us. But Jesus was not one of these; He was the original Christmas gift – the ideal embodiment of giving, and of God’s love. His arrival in the world ushered in momentous change. His uncompromising message of unconditional love gave us much to wrestle with and to work through.
Faith, like music, is practice. We work at it together, not to earn God’s favour, but to gradually re-orient ourselves to new ways of being – to grace, forgiveness, peace-making, generosity, harmony, compassion, and communion with God, People, and all Creation. This gift is not a burden; it’s a joyful new change that completes and enlarges our lives.
The gift of Christ, if not exactly easy, is definitely free. If you can’t afford to give the ideal present you had hoped to give this year because it’s just too costly, don’t despair. The original Christmas gift is ours to accept, to try out and develop, to give away others…. so start practicing.