I want BIG GIFTS this Christmas. That may sound selfish and greedy. If you are one of the people obliged to give me a Christmas present, you may be wondering what you are in for. A Caribbean cruise? A luxurious car with a big red bow sitting in the driveway on the morning of the 25th?
Let me explain.
These big gifts I am hoping for are not the kind of gifts we can buy with money. I once heard a pastor say: “You can’t outgive God.” I think that’s true. Our God gives and gives and gives. It’s really who God is. The big gifts I am hoping for are the gifts God places in our hands and hearts that fulfill needs we didn’t even know we had. They are the kind of gifts that change the world if we have the courage to use them.
This Christmas, I want the big gifts God so generously offers.
So here’s my Christmas list.
The gift of courage. Let’s start there. God gives courage. Elijah, Moses, and Esther, all discovered courage they didn’t know they had. And when they discovered the gift, they used it to confront injustice and care for others. I could use that this year.
The ability to listen, another of God’s good gifts. The boy Samuel woke in the night hearing something that no one else heard. It took three attempts but eventually, his heart was fully open to listening. The prophets received the gift of listening by the bushel. I like it when others have the gift of listening. I could use a dose.
The ability to see the truth. God offers that gift too. Remember the moment when Nathan confronted David about his mistakes? It was painful for David, but without the truth, his life was a sham. Truth is often hard, that’s for sure, but Jesus said it would set us free. The truth opens possibilities. Truth, please.
The ability to sacrifice, another gift. This sort of sacrifice is Christ-like, giving up something for the sake of others. Giving blood because someone else needs it. Leaving a big tip for a waitress or waiter who is underpaid. Allowing our lives to be disrupted for the sake of others. This is not the lopsided sacrifice where the powerful and the privileged orchestrate sacrifice for the sake of the status quo, and the poor and oppressed do the actual sacrificing. It’s giving something of ourselves to someone, not because we want to, but because it serves the greater good. Wrap it up! I could use it!
The ability to share. This is an important gift. We learned to share our toys in kindergarten, but too often, we have forgotten all about sharing by the time we become adults. (When’s the last time you shared a parking space by driving on and giving the good spot to someone else?) A full-grown adult Jesus turned to his disciples on a hillside where thousands of people gathered and said, “You give them something to eat.” Share. In God’s abundance, there is enough. The problem is in distribution. Too often, we have taken more than our share. I need some sharing.
And on the flip side of sharing, there’s another gift: the ability to know when enough is enough. That was the gift when manna fell from heaven, and water poured from a rock, and it sustained the people. Enough, a gift.
The ability to set priorities another of God’s gifts. When Jesus said, “let the children come to me,” he was establishing a priority about the weak, the poor, and the vulnerable. The gift of priority-making, please.
The ability to love our enemies, an awkward challenging gift, but a gift just the same. Failure to love our enemies results in mutual destruction. And love, such a little word, comes to us in so many forms. Generosity, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, justice, patience, encouragement, humility, and acceptance. That’s a short list. Discovering the multiple aspects of love is really a life-long adventure. Loving our enemies means coming together, breaking bread together, and finding our way to our common ground. Never easy, but essential to our souls.
The ability to imagine the world differently, a blessed gift. Mary received it when she sang the Magnificat. “My soul magnifies the Lord…He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” She sang this in a burst of imagination as she received the gift. I have long imagined what it would look like if responsible gun owners, mental health workers, law enforcement, and anyone who cared all gathered around a table and talked about reducing gun violence. And then healthy, compassionate talk became action. Can you imagine that? How can we find peace if we can’t imagine it?
Another gift: the ability to find our way when there seems to be no way. Ever been lost? Geographically perhaps, but maybe you have been lost in soul or mind or society. Hagar knew this sort of lostness and sat down to die, but God found her and made a way. My parents in their last years would drive from my hometown in NE Iowa to Des Moines to visit my family. One year when they arrived, my father was a bit anxious. He confessed that he had gotten lost on the way. My mother, wise even though dementia was creeping in, corrected him, “Don, we weren’t lost. We just didn’t know where we were for a while.” Yes, Mom, you’re right, we just don’t always know where we are. But God does. I need a way.
And just plain old basic faith, the sort of gift we see in so many saints in our churches. I confess that faith is not something I can generate on my own. Any faith I have is really God’s faith in me. It’s the faith of Christ continually making its way through me. My faith is the Holy Spirit igniting in me, nudging, urging, haunting, and sometimes shoving me all to align my life with the grace of God.
I have a long list! There’s lots more: Creativity. Community. Strength. Compassion. Forgiveness, a whole ecology of forgiveness. God forgiving us. Us forgiving one another. The gift of being empowered, breaking the inertia that has us believing our problems are too big and we can do nothing. Rising up, trusting, and following, the way Jesus empowered the disciples and sent them out two by two casting out demons. Finding purpose in life. All gifts.
So many gifts.
I need these gifts, but I think the world does too. This week marks the 10th anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. We need these gifts:
In this world, the world we live in now, we need God’s big and extravagant gifts. We won’t find these gifts under the Christmas tree. These gifts will arrive throughout the year in conversations and opportunities, the Holy Spirit always hovering near. These are the gifts of a Christ child who grew to adulthood, received God’s gifts in fullness, and let them form his life.
This is my 69th Christmas. And this is my Christmas list. I am not sending it to Santa. I am sending it as prayer to God and sharing it with you. I have come to believe God can lead us through anything, that Jesus was right about all things being possible with God.
Have I been naughty or nice this year? Ugh. What a question. I am so glad God never asks it. I’ve tried to be nice, but I haven’t always been, and I have also been complicit in the world’s brokenness.
Christmas will come. Our homes are strung with twinkle lights in preparation. We will celebrate in candlelight services and gatherings with family. We will sing old carols, share Christmas greetings, watch Hallmark movies, and probably eat too much. We will exchange gifts of gloves and socks and air fryers. All good and lovely and incredibly sentimental.
In all this, I hope we aren’t afraid to ask God for the big gifts, the things we really need. I hope we will let God be God, the divine arms extended, ready always to give us the big gifts we need to build a kingdom of peace.